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Who’s Way

Floris Kreiken

I work on technology policy and regulation. Currently, I work at the Constitutional Department of the Dutch government, where I advise on human rights and new technologies. In the past years, I have worked there on the negotiations of the AI Act (EU) and the AI treaty (CoE). I enjoy writing in my spare time.

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Jacob ran, an activity he thought was beneath him but had always equated with the way they showed his profession in old movies. Surely, journalism was stressful these days: there were articles to upload, pieces to share, videos to distribute, but they required quick thinking, not running.

The crowd scattered before him, their eyes shifting about. The buzz of the past weeks had been the rising crime rates, with every medium and news channel flooding the zone with personal testimonials and scary statistics. People clutched their bags, pacing the streets. By tomorrow, on election day, Jacob knew the buzz would be the bad weather, canceled public transport, and closed off bridges. Only in some neighborhoods, of course.

His phone vibrated, and Jacob picked up, panting. 

‘Not now, On my way.’

‘Wait, what is the color of snow?’ It was Chef’s voice, but how would you know?

Jacob hated the hassle, but he had memorized the codes for this week. Today was Tuesday. The afternoon.

‘Kubrick – Football.’ Jacob wheezed and coughed on the sidewalk. The bar was in sight, and if he kept running, he would be only fifteen minutes late. Come on, he thought.

‘And what is my favorite drink?’ He asked Chef.

‘Pudding. And mine?’

‘Chocolate cream.’

Chef sighed. ‘Okay, good, you have to do these things, Jacob. It’s policy.’

‘What do you want?’

He sighed again. ‘If this is true, we need proof. Photo, video, everything.’

‘Everybody knows it’s true, but the proof won’t be there.’

He pictured Chef walking in his glass office, staring at pictures of his young wife, correcting a few hairs on his perfect face. Maybe this was on speakerphone with some clients and colleagues present; maybe Chef enjoyed sending him on pointless assignments and laughed about this during one of his lavish dinners.

‘Well, if it is true. You’ll headline,’ Chef finally said. ‘But you need to be quick. I’ll have the bots ready. We can hit all media in two hours, video and text.’

A buzz overtook Jacob, a glow he desperately tried wishing away. He tried to say no to those negative thoughts, but this was the sixth time he tried. He deserved it, he secretly thought to himself, but the story wouldn’t be true, no chance.

The doorhandle registered his thumb ID. Bar New York was the type of touristy place Jacob liked to avoid. The place only the lonely go. So fake.

But you let the source choose, and she wanted to be loud, so he entered the main room. A kitsch disco ball reflected coloring lights on the walls and tables and on the American flags that hung behind the bar, and you could see the projected New York vistas through the bar windows. Subway vents blew steam on the sidewalks, revealing the Empire State Building, changing colors, reflecting specific points in the music, followed by cheers from the crowd.

The bar was packed, and that was the point, the business model if you will, but there were ways to resist its festive lure, Jacob knew.

Some couples sat close to the windows to view the New York cityscape. In the center, a young Frank Sinatra walked by, wearing a grey hopsack suit with a blue shirt and black tie. He started singing.

‘I got you under my skin. Welcome, Jacob!’

People raised their glasses, shouting Jacob. None of them really made eye contact, which seemed telling to him. The eyes were usually the dead give-away; that way, you could know who would try to sell you something. He made a note to himself to avoid the man in the flannel shirt and to steer clear of the green tuxedo. Fake eyes. Disingenuous smiles.

At one of the windows, in the corner of the bar, an attractive woman stared at him. Brown, straight hair hung over her hunched shoulders, with an overall depressed outlook, but the moment he answered her gaze, she lit up and smiled.

Jacob nodded.

She had dark eyes, bags under them, and she fumbled with the coaster and her half-empty glass.

‘What are you having?’ Jacob asked.

‘New York Whisky, the tropical one.’ She made air parentheses as she said tropical. ‘It’s okayish. First one’s free.’

‘Always.’

First, they get you drunk, then they sell you stuff. As a teenager, Jacob had dreamed about going to places like this, but he learned to avoid them like you would avoid too-good-to-be-true ads or cheap news bulletins.

The woman wore a fumbled tech jacket over what appeared to be a fancy purple dress underneath, the type that spelled upper-class.

‘I’m Simone.’

Jacob thought about his wife, Marie. They hadn’t been to bars or nice restaurants together for a long time, and if they did, neither of them dressed up. He was just as much to blame for this as she was. He thought how he, after this, could take her out. 

‘I’m Jacob.’

Frank Sinatra finished his song. He raised a glass and said, ‘Hope you enjoyed the show, folks. I’m definitely having a good time. And remember, if you’re having a bad day, there is always New York whisky. Ask the bartender for more information. Caskets are discounted, and for each order, there’s a complementary scarf because it’s going to be a cold day tomorrow, with lots of clouds coming in from the northeast. How about that weather?’ He laughed. 

Frank walked off to the bar and hung over the counter to order a drink.

Jacob thought about whisky and scarves, selected his order, and a moment later, a bartender placed a glass in front of him. ‘On the house.’

Off course.

Another man approached the center of the stage, greeted by loud cheers. The prime minister wore a suit with no tie, the top button of his shirt unbuttoned, and had a broad smile on his face. For a moment, his eyes seemed to focus on Jacob and the woman, but it was a hollow stare, looking through them, maybe at the chairs; maybe that was the secret.

Jacob turned to his table companion.

‘Don’t worry, he’s not real.’

Simone laughed. ‘Obviously.’

The prime minister raised his hand. ‘Dear visitors of New York Bar. I want to share my dream with you. I’ll need your vote tomorrow because we are living in difficult times. Crime rates are up throughout the city. I have been working with the police to address this issue head-on.’ He made a fist. ‘However, my opponent doesn’t believe in crime.’

Some people booed. 

Simone shook her head. ‘This is just too ironic.’

‘How long did you work for him,’ Jacob asked.

‘Few months.’

She stared at her glass, stirring the small umbrella at the center, along with the ice cubes in it.

‘God, I hope he doesn’t come to our table,’ she said.

‘Well, you can’t beat up a hologram.’

She snorted laughing. Kind of nerdy for an upper-class person. But you can’t control every tick, Jacob thought. 

‘What did you do for him?’

She stared outside and took a sip from her drink. The New York vistas included people walking by, and they had chosen the eighties as the atmosphere. Punk hairs, oversized clothing.

‘I’m happy you came,’ she gave Jacob a warm smile.

Life had to be easier, prettier, Jacob thought. There were no surprises meeting people, no endless polishing work, you could confidently enter rooms and just be yourself.

‘Why me?’ he asked.

She took another sip. ‘Well, you wrote an article on workplace conditions in government AI training centers. Pissed his office off. You should have seen him.’ She acted out a furious face.

Jacob mustered up all the strength required to fight back the towering pride surging up inside of him. He needed to remain critical for now. People would research individual journalists and approach them for a scoop on the basis of one article, he happened to know, and why not? Those articles were some of his best work, and they made their mark, if only for the day before the zone was flooded again with articles on pets, cats, and famous people fights. He decided to proceed.

‘Camera’s blocked here for IP reasons. Do you mind if I tape you?’

She nodded.

Jacob placed a recorder on the table and proceeded to get his notepad.

‘No, I meant that I mind,’ she said and, in doing so, placed her hand on his arm, which seemed strange to him.

She quickly withdrew her hand. ‘I’m sorry,’ she stared at his notepad. ‘I just don’t want my voice ending up somewhere.’

So, she hadn’t given up yet, like Jacob and most members of his family had. The hassle of muffling your voice, the progressively complicated programs and hardware required, the years of whispering. Most of Jacob’s friends had found alternative ways of security. Or simply used expensive cleaning services.

Fair enough, he thought.

‘Tell me from the beginning.’

She grew pale, which made the bags under her eyes change shape, and pouted her lips.

Jacob had seen fear before, grief, anger, hate, everything. He knew the ticks, the small micro-expressions that could give away double meaning; he knew the faces people made when they were hiding something or some hidden agenda. He knew when his wife lied about his current appearance or when Chef said the promotion would come maybe next year. He knew lies.

Jacob thought he was better at this than his colleagues. Even the bots missed fakes sometimes. Chef allowed three mistakes a year, that’s why his paper was the most expensive in the country. That’s why Jacob worked there; he was good at what he did. Jacob decided he would trust his gut.

She grabbed the beer coaster again, tearing off a piece, and took a deep breath as if to say something, but Frank Sinatra walked past the table, bottle of New York whisky in hand, and said, ‘Hey guys. I hope you’re having a great time, and if not, there’s New York whisky. If you order another one now, it’s half off.’ He stared at them.

Simone looked at Jacob. Eyes saying do something.

‘We are having a good time, Frank,’ Jacob said, ‘thanks for asking. And why not have a second one.’

If only so, he would give us some peace and quiet, Jacob thought, and if this conversation won’t go anywhere, at least I’ll have a good time.

Sinatra laughed. ‘If you need anything, just give me a holler. And I hope you listened to my political friend just now. He seems like the right man for the job!’ He laughed again and walked off.

Jacob said, ‘Even Sinatra? They got Frank?’

Simone nodded. ‘There’s a lot of big IP behind the prime minister. They will do anything to get him elected again.’

She was different from the people who had tried this before. More put together. No scary eyes, no conspiracy theories. Also, she seemed genuinely worried and restless. Then again. Jacob was also getting restless. Every disturbance was postponing the inevitable vetting, the disappointing process. Even if it were true, he would have an hour, maybe two, if he wanted his article to be picked up by the biggest outlets and before people stopped caring about the news. Maybe she offered a hint of something interesting enough for the news cycle, but he would have to tread carefully, the delicate balance of not scaring off a genuine source and asking the right critical questions.

‘So, tell me.’

She took a deep breath again, and looked outside. The New York surroundings moved past slowly, and if you really paid attention, you could see midtown Manhattan sliding by and the bright spire of the Chrysler building moving into position.

Her long eyelashes blinked to shake off a tear that rolled down her cheek.

‘He assaulted me,’ she said with a trembling voice.

The scene had a movielike quality to it, but life is like that sometimes, Jacob thought. Sometimes, people project movies onto their own lives as if to make them more real. Marie would play sad music during sad periods as her own little soundtrack. They fought, made up, and she would search for music that was ‘conciliatory,’ and play that on repeat. Conciliatory was an actual category! And it worked! They laughed about it.

‘When did this start? Can you tell me exactly what happened?’ Jacob scribbled something in his notebook, his way of showing empathy. He could read emotions, but mirroring them was not his specialty.

The woman brushed her hair out of her face. Amateurs would construe this as a lie, but visual cues weren’t as important as contextual clues.

Every story detail mattered.

So, they were working together. She provided constitutional advice to the office. He took an interest very soon, came in at least once a day, asking questions about new proposals. Started calling outside of office hours. At first friendly, professional even, asking good questions, just really good questions. And she appreciated his interest in her work. Working for his office was an honor. And they shared late nights, highs and lows, and adrenaline.

And then they kissed.

She paused as the bartender brought their second round.

‘Please continue,’ Jacob said.

She was flattered at first. Maybe she made the first move, she didn’t remember. Got home, thought it was her fault. Maybe she sent out the wrong signals, you know, and she told no one and to deal with it, she decided to make it a cool story that she would remember but keep to herself, that one time kissing the prime minister, and maybe one day she could tell it to her not yet existing kids.

Just a memory. End of story.

But she made sure to always be near other people when he was around.

Jacob thought she talked too fast.

‘One second. Anything else happened? And this was when?’

Christmas. He seemed distant those weeks after the holiday break. Left one message maybe, about a work thing, and he seemed embarrassed. So, she felt guilty and she dropped it, forgot it actively, blocked any thought about it. A mistake. It never happened.

‘So just a kiss?’ Jacob was getting impatient.

The woman flashed an angry look.

‘Sorry,’ Jacob said, and he motioned her to continue but regretted this immediately.

She sighed, grabbed her bag, and rose to her feet.

‘This was a mistake.’ She stormed off.

This could be a bluff, Jacob thought, and he wanted to see whether she would hesitate or walk back; every twitch would mean she was waiting for his call, for him to chase her and get her back to the table.

But she didn’t hesitate. Instead, she took big steps to the front door, passing the center stage.

If this is real, Jacob thought, it would change everything. The election, his job, his reputation. On his first day at the paper, plenty of years ago, he had written an article about a dog that supposedly understood math. The accompanying video turned out to be a fake. He had done the checks, but it had slipped through. Jacob, the liar, and his colleagues called him and have called him ever since, even the synthetic ones.

Never again.

As the woman passed Frank Sinatra, he waved. ‘Bye, Simone,’ but she didn’t wave back. Still, no head turn, nothing, just her heels stomping towards the front door.

Maybe this was real, maybe it wasn’t. He needed some way to use his camera, to check her face, to get some details, so he rose to his feet, knocking his whisky over the table. This was too early to let slip, and getting her outside would be an opportunity too.

He chased after her out of the bar and grabbed her shoulder. ‘Wait, wait, wait.’

She yanked herself loose, tears flowing. ‘Leave me alone.’

‘Wait, I’m sorry,’ Jacob said.

He needed to get a few pictures. A scan, some voice.

She dug her face in her hands. ‘Just leave me.’

‘Come on, let’s keep talking.’ He resisted the urge to lift her chin.

She took a deep breath, corrected the tech jacket over her shoulders, and looked at the rain. Socials would be full of pictures of flooded streets tomorrow; subways supposedly closed down. All for politics. 

‘Can I trust you?’ she said.

‘We need him to be responsible for his actions. What he did was wrong, okay?’ Jacob tried to play along, and the more she relaxed, the more he believed his own words.

A man next to the doorway watched them. She glanced at him, uneasy, and motioned Jacob to follow her inside again.

As they entered, Frank gave them the same smile as before.

‘Hey Jacob. Hi Simone.’

This time, Frank winked at him.

My mind is playing tricks on me, Jacob thought, and just as he decided not to have any more whisky, the bartender brought another glass to the table. ‘You dropped your previous one.’

They sat down, and her eyes stayed on his notepad. Jacob made sure to check for little victories on her face, small signs a plan or hidden agenda was working, but she showed nothing but distress.

‘Look, I’m sorry I have to do this,’ he said, ‘but this is serious, this type of news could tip the election. I don’t mean to insult you; I know how difficult it is for women to come forward with things like this.’

She cut him off. ‘Oh, you do?! You know how difficult it is?’ She bent over the table and grabbed his arm again. ‘Do you have any idea how difficult it is to avoid the prime minister?’

Jacob had some idea. The prime minister’s face was everywhere and had apparently made it to bars like this, too.

‘I get it. I know how power and success change people.’

This was a lie. Jacob had read about it but hadn’t been close to it. He didn’t know how success could make you warm and cold at the same time or how people looked at you, sucked up to you, and tried to impress you. He didn’t know about the clear-headedness, the intoxicating quality of it. But an article like this would get him close to that feeling. If true, the road would be laid out for him: no more small-scale articles, no more waiting in line for small-time politics, and no more begging for hacks or leads.

‘Do you?’ she took another sip.

His wife Marie said success required another state of mind. Believe in yourself, she said, mimicking the latest online guru she listened to. Just say no to your doubts and your negative thoughts, and say yes to success.

‘That’s life!’ Frank Sinatra sang. ‘That’s what all the people say.’ He swung the rope of his microphone through the air, which looked real but also baffled Jacob, as ropes were unnecessary for microphones.

A text message from Chef. ‘Anything? We have an hour more or less.’

‘Give me a moment. Maybe something there.’

Jacob grabbed his notebook, and took another sip of his new drink. ‘The thing is, for articles like this, I need photo proof, video proof, I am going to need a lot.’

She raised her eyebrows. ‘You know what he is like. You’ve read the rumors.’

‘I know the rumors, but he keeps a clean slate.’

She nodded. ‘I will need discretion. Some way to guarantee my safety.’

‘Was it just a kiss?’ Whisky made Jacob more restless. But it also made him more focused, it made the distractions fade away in the background.

Simone gave an embarrassed look. ‘It wasn’t,’ and she proceeded to dig through her bag.

A man with two caskets of New York whisky passed the table. He gave them a thumbs up, disappearing into a group of people who cheered and high-fived each other. Jacob wondered whether other people would think he and Simone were on a date. He felt the urge to show them that she was real. The place was getting more crowded, people dancing at the counter, sometimes moving through each other.

Simone gave him her phone. 

‘These are the text messages.’

She wiped her thin fingers on the screen, scrolling until they stopped.

“Hey! Please call me back.”

“Hey, sorry about last night. Please contact me.”

“Let me take you out to dinner, okay?”

                                                                                                 “Please don’t contact me again.”

“Listen, we are going to have to talk at some point.”

                                                                                                 “you’ve ruined everything.”

“I can have people at your place right now. Call me.”

‘That’s when I quit.” She took the phone back.

Jacob nodded. ‘Well…’

She sighed and took another swig of whisky. ‘I know. I also have a video. And photos. Sorry, it is just embarrassing.’

She took out the phone again. ‘It’s my home alarm.’

A quiet hallway. A man opens the door and enters, slow, deliberate steps. He appears to be smiling. It’s him all right, or at least his appearance. He appears to say something. Takes off his jacket and his shirt, leaving only his pants. The camera shifts to the living room. A woman, the woman sitting across from Jacob right now, is backing up to a table. He approaches slowly. She backs up further. He approaches even more until they touch. She appears to push him and pound his shoulder.

A rush overtook Jacob. He needed to call Chef. Get verifier bots ready. He needed text, photos, and every cybersecurity measure to block out her face. If this were true, she required some protection.

‘You look terrible,’ Frank Sinatra stood at the table again. ‘That’s life! As I always sing. You know what I always do when I feel bad? I take a sip of this fine New York whisky. Have you read the news, by the way? Crime is way up! Someone should definitely do something about it.’

‘Frank, can you leave us alone, please,’ Jacob said.

Sinatra left. They have to, if you ask.

He could see the headline right now. “The moral crusade ends here. Or: hands off.” His name is under it. No more Jacob the liar. Jacob the visionary.

Simone picked up her phone. ‘I can send you these.’

‘I will do my best, but I can’t guarantee your anonymity,’ Jacob thought it best to be honest.

‘I’m willing to take that risk. My life is over anyway.’

Jacob checked her face for any tick, any weirdness. Was this too good to be true?

‘Why now? Why not two weeks ago?’

She stared outside. ‘It was something he said during the campaign about morals. I couldn’t let it stand. They’ve been bullying me endlessly.’

Two people sat down at the table next to them. A couple. They nodded to them and stared at each other quietly. They were both attractive, which made Jacob guess which one was real. 

‘Listen. I need to go to the bathroom, okay? It’s all the drinks,’

He took out his phone, walking, dizzy from the blood rushing to his head.

The bathrooms smelled like fresh lemons, as if they had gone unused the whole evening, and thank God there was reception here.

He sent Chef the video, the photos, the texts, his notes. They went through their mutual codes for security. ‘Make sure to vet this.’

‘On it,’ replied Chef.

Jacob leaned against the bathroom mirror. The bags under his eyes slowly disappeared, and some pounds were lifted from his cheeks. The lines on his forehead shrank away to create even skin, and it made him smile.

Those were the days.

He took out his private phone. There was still one person who could help, but it would require a sacrifice. He decided to call.

‘Jacob?’

‘I need a favor.’

‘Wait. What do you call a Buddha in Milan? ‘

’Come on, Peter, it’s been months. I don’t remember.’

Peter hung up.

Jacob looked at the mirror again. All but a few grey hairs had disappeared as he moved his face from side to side. He knew the code had something to do with their time studying together. A drink they liked? Some night out? A TV show? Sport? Sport! They watched old football videos together.

Jacob called again.

‘Buddha in Milan?’

‘It’s Roberto Baggio.’

‘Good. What do you want? I’m not cleaning out your computer again.’

‘It is related to your job.’ Jacob said.

Peter breathed into his phone for a moment, ‘Are you kidding me? I told you before: no more favors, no more help. Find your own scoops. You know how much trouble you got me in last time? We almost lost our government contract. Do you have any idea? Calling me on my private phone.’

Jacob flipped through his photos, including the one he took of the woman outside of the bar door. She had teary eyes, and the hair moved, but it would be clear enough. ‘I need you to check a face on all databases.’

‘No way.’

Jacob tried to sound as serious as possible. ‘It’s really important.’

‘Do you understand me? I could lose my job. Lose. My. Job.’

The door opened, so Jacob turned and moved into the corner of the bathroom.

Jacob started whispering. ‘This could be a matter of national security.’

Peter laughed. ‘Oh yeah? Did a counting dog break out of its home? My job is not some ready to order secret service work, you know that right? It’s not spying on demand.’

‘You work for a company. Come on, there is just something off, but I have no way to verify this.’

‘Ask your synthetic colleagues to verify, that’s what they’re there for.’

‘They are too conservative.’

Peter snickered. ‘Conspiracy theory.’

‘I’ll give you the next leak. Anything we find, I’ll make sure you get it first.’

Peter sighed. ‘I want three leaks.’

Jacob thought about this. Three leaks would jeopardize his position at the paper. They would know it was him. If he were to leak, he would have to avoid drawing attention to himself.

‘All right, but I’ll spread them over the year. ‘

‘Hand it over,’ Peter said.

‘Let me know.’ And he hung up.

Jacob’s bladder pressed down violently, so he walked to the nearest urinal to get rid of the whisky. Footsteps approached, and a man next to him unzipped his pants.

‘Well, you look very cozy with your girl,’ it was Sinatra again.

They made holograms pee, Jacob thought. They even included the sound of piss reaching the urinal. Who would’ve thought. 

Sinatra zipped up his pants. ‘You can’t trust her, you know. Or you’ll have a bad day. And you know what I always do when I have a bad day? I take New York Whisky,’ he smiled.  

‘What?

‘That’s life!’ Frank sang, as he disappeared through the bathroom door.

Jacob walked back to his table, where another man talked to Simone. She seemed to be typing on her phone, with an impatient look on her face. As the man saw Jacob approach, he gave a friendly nod and sat down a few tables further next to another man who looked in their direction.

‘What did he want?’ Jacob said.

‘To sell me holiday tickets.’

‘Where?’

‘It doesn’t matter.’

Jacob took a sip of his Whisky. He and Marie had stopped going on holidays abroad. She simply hated the stress: luggage would get lost, train times would change, the plane would or wouldn’t leave, and there was no way to get real information on their place of destination without filtering through the bullshit and the endless password change requests. Jacob promised that his work would help, but she didn’t want him to work on their holiday. They usually go camping on the coast nowadays and try to avoid technology altogether.

‘I have sent over what I have to my boss. It will take a few minutes for a first check. Verification and everything.’

‘Sure,’ her face turned to outside again.

His phone vibrated. Peter.

‘Simone Jensen. Used to live in the posh neighborhood. Married once, recently divorced. 32 years old. Worked for the PM. I’m getting curious now.’ Smily face.

So, she actually worked at his office.

‘Do you have time for edits?’ Simone seemed impatient.

‘Our bots are very quick.’

‘Sorry, I just want to know what is going to happen in the next few hours.’

‘I understand.’

Phone again. Chef this time.

‘Kubrick – Football.’

‘Pudding’

‘Chocolate cream.’

‘First checks seem okay,’ Chef said, ‘could be huge, I’ll send over a preview. Main page material!’

The rush of accomplishment slid over him, like a warm blanket. He took another sip of his drink. Could this be true? He looked at the people dancing away at the bar counter, unaware that this day would be rocked, turned upside down this evening, and that he, Jacob, the short-bearded man they hardly noticed in the corner, would do the turning, would make the push, and would make history in the process.

His colleagues had been searching for this. A hint, something to pin on the prime minister. But the PM had remained clean. A dedicated army of cleaner bots monitored his presence permanently, synthetic eyes peering through every obscure blog on the known internet. Jacob had tried using gaming fora to initiate a discussion on him, did so under a different name, hiding his tracks, but he was quickly bullied off, his fridge shut off for a week.

‘Any news?’ Simone seemed to be evaluating his face, his reactions. This unnerved Jacob.

‘Bots say it seems legit. But we need to do additional testing. Get more details.’

‘Why?’ She grabbed her drink, and fumbled the glass.

Jacob felt unsure now. ‘Does it matter?’

She leaned over, ‘This is my life, I need to know.’

Jacob sensed a threat somewhere, but it was never verbalized. It seemed weird and unnecessary.

Frank Sinatra approached their table again. ‘Having a good time?’

‘Yes, Frank, just leave us alone,’ Simone said, angry now. She took another swig. Was she drunk?

Frank remained there, staring at them.

‘Can you leave us alone, please,’ she said again.

But he stayed, just grinning. The man in the green velvet coat joined and put his arm around Sinatra. ‘You seem upset. Looks like you could use a nice glass of New York Whisky.’

Simone’s eyes turned to fear. She grabbed Jacob’s hand. ‘Something is wrong. you have to do the story now. If not, we can forget it.’

Frank raised his microphone. ‘And now, the end is near, and so I face the final curtain,’ he started singing again, and the people in the bar turned to them.

Simone shook Jacob, yanking his sleeves, even ripping them it seemed. ‘He is on to us. You need to do it now. Otherwise, he’ll win, this won’t come out.’

Jacob’s phone rang. Peter.

‘Listen, I found some weird things on her, some hole in her resume we can’t access. And the rest is too clean. I’m not sure what you’re getting into, but I don’t have a good feeling about this. She recently sold her apartment too.’

Frank raised his voice. ‘I did it my way.’

‘Peter?’

No sound.

‘What was the phone call?’ Simone asked. ‘Someone real?’

Phone alerts were dripping in slowly. Messages from Peter, password requests, an endless string of emails about dogs, other pets, famous people, alerts that his systems were hacked, his fridge, his locks, his cars, there were even missed calls, and text messages from Marie. ‘Someone has your voice; they’ve been calling me.’

Buddha! Jacob forgot about the Buddha. Was it him? Did Peter call?

Simone had panicky eyes.

‘Don’t let them get to you. Post it now!’

Jacob fumbled with his phone, and Frank kept singing, the man in the green velvet jacket shouting right next to him louder than before, and more and more people poured onto the dance floor.

‘I can’t, I need to be sure!’ Jacob shouted.

‘Do it!’

Another text. Chef. ‘It’s very popular. Lots of traction.’

Jacob looked at it. ‘Wait! Did I submit?’

The woman breathed a sigh of relief. ‘Thank you so much. Thank you, thank you.’

Jacob stared at his phone. Lots of traction, main page material. He did it. But when?

Simone took off her tech jacket, revealing her long dress, and grabbed his hands and squeezed them. ‘Thank you so much. We’ve got the asshole. You changed the world! You did good. Come on. Let’s dance.’

Jacob looked at her hand. Simone could’ve submitted the article using his voice, but Jacob refused this thought.

He downed his glass of whisky, and allowed himself to be taken to the dance floor. Thoughts tried to enter his mind, about how she used her camera on him outside, about how she bugged him when she grabbed his arms, and how she made sure to record his telephone codes to talk to Chef, and about how she could work for the political opponent of the prime minister, but Jacob said no to those thoughts. He said no to doubts, and he said yes to success.

Simone was laughing and dancing, and as the room spun, Jacob grabbed her hands, and he thought about success. About how it would flow through your body, how it cleared the brain, and how wonderful it felt, even if it was only at his fingertips.

[citationic]
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