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Saturday, July 19, 2008

XIPHOSURAN DAYS

We had been sending him terrorist messages printed on the inside of his toilet paper rolls for the past three weeks, but, seemingly, the message was not getting through. Was he not using toilet paper? Our detailed reports suggested that he was in the habit of doing so, and not only that but he did so with "alarming regularity" (pp.14-17). His patterns of coming and going from his modestly appointed apartment during the three week period did not suggest, either, that he had suddenly decided to use off-site sanitary facilities. Indeed, why would he? We were, to quote a phrase, up a tree without even a paddle.

It did enter out minds that our terrorist messages weren't working, not "getting to" him, but that was, to our minds, nearly impossible. We had spent months working on the messages, perfectly tailored, fine-tuned, to his unique mental state, which we calculated through a combination of doctor's records, magazine subscriptions, and unfettered access to the communal trash bin at the back of his building. These messages were expertly designed to wake to his most secret fears, to unearth his deepest-buried memories, to bring him around to our control. They were, in essence, perfect.

Indeed, we thought long and hard about what was the best way to deliver these messages to him. Some thoughts included:
1) Printing the terrorist messages on a small toy which would then be hidden in his breakfast cereal.
2) Engraving the terrorist messages on the back of a horseshoe crab, and placing the crab in a plastic bag in the glovebox of his car.
3) Inserting a long "finger-like" protrusion through his bathroom window as he was having a shower, and writing the terrorist message in the condensed steam of his bathroom mirror.

While all ideas had merit, we all agreed that the pure shock of finding a terrorist message waiting for you at the end of a roll of toilet paper was by far the most disturbing, and our researchers agreed (especially after we all discovered the ridiculous price of horseshoe crabs). But why had he not reacted to the messages? We spent days—if we wanted to be completely honest—in a deep funk. Our plan, that we had so much faith in for so long, appeared not to have worked.

We spent days more on constant surveillance. Short of an obvious vigil, we were never more than four feet from his door. We were postmen, neighbours, girl scouts: we were everywhere but right in there next to him, whispering terrorist messages. We were not allowed direct contact, of course, but nothing seemed to be happening in the house. Curtains remained closed, newspapers uncollected. We checked and rechecked our lines of communication. No word. No frantic phone call. No coded messages via televisual ads. We had whole responses ready: cryptic, threatening, designed only for him. Why wouldn't he react?

Eventually—as so often unfortunately happens, we learnt, in such high-pressure situations—one of us cracked. The milkman we planted (who spent real time learning, applying and securing the route with a dairy company that didn't even normally make home deliveries) to observe the daily goings-on in the apartment, one day decided enough was enough. Placing and retrieving yet another two pints of skim milk, he suddenly rose up and forced his shoulder through the front door. The wood splintered and the lock snapped straight out. As we ripped the headphones from our ears and tore out of numerous unmarked vans, as we shook off camouflage netting and untangled hordes of binoculars, we wondered immediately at the immense security risks of such a flimsy door. Why would someone, such an obvious target for terrorist messages, take personal security so lightly?

It's unclear who got there first. Those of us stationed to the rear of the house swear it was us: those stationed to the front say the same. All we know is what we saw:

Our target, our carefully chosen terrorist target, slumped over, in the bathroom, on the toilet, dead, with a horsehoe crab crammed into each ear. We turned away quickly, not so much from disgust, but from shame. They had got here first. And with horseshoe crabs! We glared at each other, not knowing what to say. And all the while, a toilet roll, sitting not four feet to our left, only three sheets from its end.

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