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i have no idea what i'm doing

in the same way that i should be doing to keep my body in shape [but mostly am not], i try to keep my writing muscles in shape by just sitting down and making myself write for a few hours. i can work on one particular thing. i can work on a lot of little things. usually, it's a mix of the two. i've not been very good lately at working on things that i have planned out, things that already have a structure [in my head] and characters and a plot and dialogue. nah, that stuff i just keep putting off, because i have the rest of my life to work on that. i'd much rather distract myself with extremely similar work. [this is why you had a six year hiatus between books, you realise that, right? -ed.]

i often wonder about the line between keeping myself in a creative headspace and just wasting time. i think that we all have a tendency to trick ourselves into thinking we're doing something productive when we're really just dedicating a lot of time to the parts of a job we like rather than tackling more onerous tasks. for instance, i did a quick count and determined that i have written nearly six thousand words on the blog this week. i'm not counting the part of "mental health mondays" that was re-posted- that's just the new stuff i've created in the last seven days. and that's not even taking into account the fact that both "mental health mondays" and "world wide wednesdays" were shorter than average. six thousand words. i'd like to say "hey, it's all writing", but that seems like a lot of effort towards something that can't ever be used in a fiction piece, which is what my, er, "real" writing is supposed to be all about. [nonetheless, i love working on this blog. this is where i go to just play with ideas from the real world and indulge in all the various interests i long to share with people, but usually can't find human beings willing to put up with me in person.]

of course, sometimes, when i'm doing my little writing "heats" at home, i get lucky and something just blossoms from the tower of babble. i've had luck recently raising entire short stories from the muck of my mind just because i started letting my fingers interpret for my brain. that's when i feel like i've accomplished the most. not all of what comes out is good, of course, but some of it is, and even more of it has the potential to be good with a little more loving attention from my more grounded brain.



occasionally, though, i end up with something that just... well... perplexes and infuriates. i thought i'd share with you one piece- and please keep in mind that it was written in one shot and not edited at all- that just came rocketing out of me one evening for no reason whatsoever. it's just a tiny blip with no ending, no real beginning and no real plot to speak of. it feels like writing down a bit of conversation that i overheard in a restaurant. the thing is, it's pretty intricate for something where basically nothing is going on. normally when i try this, i get moodier, more atmospheric pieces that i eventually incorporate as detail into larger stories. in this case, there's clearly a lot going on and i desperately want someone to tell me what it is. then i remember that if i don't know what's going on, nobody can possibly know what's going on, because it came out of me. that just doesn't seem fair.

i don't know what this will become. i figure i'll just leave it here [and on my hard drive, of course] until i find something with which i can connect it. i've certainly written complete pieces from much smaller scraps. but i do wish that whoever among the people who live in my head started telling this story would get the lead out and tell me the rest of it.

*

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He tosses his cigarette down and immediately goes to light another, but something catches his attention and instead he takes off, walking at a quick canter, eyes fixed on something ahead, unlit cigarette still hanging from his fingers.

After a couple of blocks, his pace slows noticeably, until it becomes obvious that he’s wasting time, shuffling, pausing to light the cigarette he looks surprised to find already in his hand, as if he’d forgotten about it in his rush. His leisurely amble makes his long  limbs seem disjointed, like a  marionette handled by an uncertain puppeteer. Whoever is controlling him can’t get everything to work together.

He doesn’t look like the kind of person who should be following anyone. He doesn’t look sharp enough to manage it, doesn’t appear to have that slickness and ability to become a shadow when necessary. He’s the sort of person you’d be likely to remember if you saw them a few times on the street in short succession. Gangly and dressed like a punk dandy, his hair all roughed up and a pair of sharp eyes that stand out even from a distance. He doesn’t look dangerous, exactly, although you might move to avoid him if he were coming towards you. An unsettling look. A look that speaks of an utter lack of empathy.

He certainly doesn’t look the part of the invisible mole, but chances are that it’s a role he doesn’t have to play for that long. That’s the way now. They don’t invest thousands of dollars in having one person track the movements of their target anymore. They hire some kind of agency who outsources the work to dozens of casual employees for short periods of time, so that no one ever really knows what’s going on. You catch one, he has no idea who he’s working with or for. He had a two hour assignment to watch one woman go to the bank, then sit on a park bench and eat her lunch, where she spoke to a man she seemed to know and then headed back to her office. Why was he watching her? Because someone paid him to do it? Who is this person? Some guy who works for other people, he doesn’t know. He knows a first name. He knows that he sees him in certain places from time to time. So how does he report back? He calls a number and leaves a message. A different number every time; a number that will inevitably trace back to a disposable cell phone paid for in cash.

How does he get paid, then? Someone just walks up to him the day after and says “you dropped your wallet” and hands him a wallet with cash. It’s a different person every time and they walk away so quickly that he barely gets a look at them. If you don’t leave a message, you don’t get the money and you never get approached again. And if you’re lucky, that’s all that happens. There are rumours about bodies showing up by the river, dumped like sacks of trash. No one can give a lot of detail, it’s just rumours, but it seems… possible.

Why was he supposed to follow this particular person? He doesn’t know. The first time, he asked and was told that it wasn’t his business. Just follow some seemingly random person for a few hours and then call.

Is he the only one they’ve hired? No, he’s sure there are others, but he never knows who they are. One friend of his said he’d done some of the same kind of work, had been told to follow a man who went to a bathhouse for a couple of hours and then went back to his office, constantly wiping his hands on his suit after he left. They were told to note the details.

Where is that friend now? He doesn’t know. He hasn’t seen him since shortly after they had had that conversation. His friend just disappeared and no one knows where. His roommates were pissed, but then they found someone else to take the room and that was that. You weren’t curious? I figured he went home because he ran out of money or something, is what he’d tell you.

He can tell you the places where he’s seen the man who hires him, but it won’t do any good. You never go up to him and ask about work. He always approaches you. If you drag one of the “employees” out and try to force them to point to him, he’ll say that he isn’t there. If you get questioned by the police and try to call him afterward, you’ll never hear from him again.

That’s the way it operates now. There’s no Sam Spade following a suspect to a criminal lair, there’s only a number of poor teens and twenty-somethings who aren’t technically doing anything illegal, just shady. The worst they could be accused of is not reporting income. They’re never asked to do anything violent, anything confrontational, or anything in depth. It’s just following. It’s a different group that drops off the wallets, but even when they’ve been stopped and questioned, not one of them ever has more than two or three wallets at once and there’s no I.D., so nothing to dispute the claim that they’re carrying more than one of their own volition. Even the amounts are unsuspicious.

There are others who do pick-ups and drop-offs of other things. They’re higher up the food chain. They must be. Those are the ones you need to be able to trust not to look at what they’ve been handed. So there’s a whole network there, mostly bike couriers who pick up from one anonymous location and take to another, where there’s cash waiting. A few times, the cash has been stolen, but the courier makes the drop anyway and then calls their “boss” to leave a message. The money gets to the courier, plus a bit extra for the good work.

Who picks up the packages once they’re dropped off? Another courier, most of the time. Packages can pass through a half-dozen people until it enters a building and never re-emerges. Sometimes, it’s a bar. Sometimes, it’s a store. Sometimes, it’s an apartment building. The courier goes in and comes out after several minutes, sans package. If the police stop him on the way out, the answer is always the same: The package was dropped off for pick-up later by another person. They’ll even give you the name, with a cheeky grin. Doesn’t matter, because when you go in, the package has been picked up. The business owner will verify what the courier just told you: it was left for someone and that person came in and is gone. Or the package will have been left in the lobby of an apartment building and claimed immediately, with no one being able to say by whom.

What do the packages contain? No one knows, or at least no one who will talk knows. They get limited information and they continue to get work that pays well- not outrageously, but well and regularly- because they accept the jobs without questions.

It’s an impressive organization. Hundreds of employees, none of whom know anything beyond what can be observed by anyone. Packages are shuffled around, people are followed, verbal messages are conveyed and none of it is criminal or even suspicious on its own, but then the followed disappear, their offices are hacked, potential whistle-blowers recant and go silent. No one knows what’s happening and no one can connect the dots, except the invisibles, the ones at a higher echelon, and they aren’t coming forward.

... by the way, if you enjoyed reading this, you might enjoy reading something i actually worked on and completed. you can buy both interference, a collection of short stories and tricky + conversion, my first novel and screenplay published as a single volume, at the more like space book store

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