It’s midnight when I arrive in Philadelphia. My phone is buzzing with the news: Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, chairperson of the Democratic National Committee, has been harassed out of office by Bernie Sanders and his misogynist supporters.
I need a drink. I’ve been abused by Sanders supporters for years now, and the news that a fellow victim of cyberbullying has been forced from her place of work because of doxing is too much to handle.
I duck into a classic Philly watering hole, Italiano d’Mussolini’s Bar & Grill, and start to drown my sorrows with a classic Michelob and gin. As I brag to the bartender about Martin O’Malley’s fitness for Designated Survivor, I hear a hoarse voice call my name.
“Ser Diggler. We meet again.”
I turn and see all 5’6″ of Rendon Lau, muscular leader of Hillary Clinton’s digital war room. He’s wearing a steel breastplate and wielding what looks like a pina colada. He looks down at his drink and shakes off the umbrella.
“Ser Diggler, welcome to Philadelphia. So sorry your stay must be so… short.”
Rendon cackles and pulls a lever that has no immediate effect. A few moments later some quarters pour out of a slot. I pick them up.
“I-uh…” stumbles Rendon. “In our headquarters that usually drops you into a pit of spikes with vicious anacondas coiled around them. I guess it doesn’t do that here… I’m sorry.”
After an uncomfortable few moments of silence, I sip my cocktail and my journalistic instincts kick in. Here I am standing face-to-face with a top Clinton surrogate in the midst of one of the biggest news stories of the year. I pounce.
“What is Team Hillary doing at a Philadelphia bar and grill?” I ask.
“While we require the safety and opacity of the Brooklyn Dreadfort, an emergency calls us to the City of Brotherly Love, where Our Lady Hillary, the One True President won a resounding victory over the Usurper Sanders–yes, excuse you, sir–” Rendon stutters as a man in chinos brushes against him on his way to the Make Your Own Appletini bar.
“The email dump?” I ask.
“Not an email dump. International espionage and grounds for World War III.”
Norm Edison, Hillary’s social media director, grabs my wrist with his remaining hand.
“Carl, follow us,” he commands meekly.
Norm and Rendon lead me out of the public floor of D’Mussolini’s “Bartopia” and into The Appetizer Arena, a downstairs area where they seem to have set up some type of ersatz war room. It isn’t very private: there are scattered families enjoying their Infinite Pasta Dunkers and Loaded Breadtickz, conspicuously averting their glances from the cloaked politicos. But Rendon and Norm treat this area — and my appearance — with great reverence.
“Rendon,” says Norm. “I do not believe he is ready.”
“The man who can see with two eyes can see with none,” replies Rendon.
“Diggler —,” says Rendon, turning to me. “If you wish to continue you must earn our confidence. There are thirteen tasks —”
As Norm and Rendon bicker I wave to the ex-chairman with the Democratic National Committee, who is sitting in the corner behind a very large plate of fancy spaghetti.
“Well the cat’s out of the bag now, Norman,” grouses Rendon. “Oh let’s NOT kill Carl Diggler. Let’s NOT inject him with spider poison and leave his corpse at the dump. Let’s NOT install a lever-based torture system in the bar. That’s you. That’s what you sound like. Well done.”
Wasserman-Schultz plucks a curl from her head.
“What’s the point of making this whole big production when you just muck it all up? Just show Carl the damn slides,” she sighs.
“Grant us the Third Eye of the Third Way to see the truth that is in front of us,” Rendon chants in a pleasant lilt.
Norm drags a covered whiteboard out from behind the Marinara Fountain. He hangs his head and squares his feet, then removes the black cloth.
“Is this what you wanted to see, Carl?” Debbie says dispassionately.
On the whiteboard is a tangle of complicated connections. CHUCK TODD is one, leading to WINNERS OF THE WEEK and SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE PRODUCT PLACEMENT. HILLARY leads to BERNIE BRO FALSE FLAGS and FEMINIST GHOSTBUSTERS. PUTIN is another, with arrows leading to BERNIE BROS and ESTONIA and WOKE TWITTER.
“My God,” I think and also say. “This entire time… the winners and losers of the week… were manufactured by the DNC. I… I can’t believe it.”
“BELIEE—,” belows Wasserman-Schultz, choking on a Cheesy Nachorita chip. She pounds her chest and restates: “Believe it, Carl. For your entire life you believed the Democratic National Committee to be an impartial party organization with zero stake in perpetuating the status quo. I can now reveal to you… that you were wrong!”
“All along…it was DNC comms staffers telling me about Trump’s viral fails,” I whimper. “…about Bernie’s aversion to a woman’s pleasure…planting seeds in my head as part of a larger machination…”
I fall to my knees as tears stream down my face.
“That isn’t the bad part, Carl.”
I try to prepare myself for what comes next.
“What is…the bad part?”
“In 1967, a– I’m sorry, can you, can you please–” says a shadow-shrouded man whose entrance is interrupted by a rotund family making their way to the Onion Ring Dip Station.
“In 1967 a consortium of deep state service operatives met to determine the course of the next millennium. Underneath the secret Third Temple we agreed that… Carl… CARL”
I pull myself back from the Onion Ring Dip Station and nod my head to indicate that I’m listening, although the station has several flavors of onion ring dip from Buffalo Pizza Pizazz to Indian Daydream.
“Carl, do you know who I am?”
“Are you from Fusion? AJ Plus?” I gasp.
“I’m someone who once worked alongside you. But my skills and knowledge have caused me to be called to work with those who I once opposed. Though their people laughed when certain illicit pictures of mine were taken out of context, not even realizing that it’s perfectly normal to tell someone that you’re soft an-”
“What are you talking about?” I ask.
“Right, right. These are trying times, and the DNC and I have a common enemy: Vladimir Putin.”
“Oh my god,” I whelp bravely. “This goes straight to the top.”
“That’s right. Last week, a JWTOC NATO JSOC TOG told me that the Russians have a man inside. I assumed it was Sanders, but the answer shows that in the world of espionage, the truth is even crazier than anything from the pages of Tom Clancy, or Letters to Penthouse.”
He takes a gulp of Malbec.
“A CENTCOM LTG QWOP CHUD told me that Vladimir Putin has been engaging in Level 39 Cyber Warfare to aid his Manchurian Candidate, one Donald J. Trump. There are BAPS kernels and NEET protocols all over the Wikileaks dumps, and anyone who knows anything about Web Combat knows that those are Russian hacking signatures.”
I nod fearfully.
“Before we can assess the FUBAR level of the FNAP GUNT QWERTY backtrace–”
“Excuse sir, I must refill Burger Dunker Machine’s BBQ tank,” a harried waiter with a thick Eastern European accent politely whispers to the cloaked NatSec expert.
Before I can blink, the waiter is tackled by the nameless intelligence operative.
“This man is one of Putin’s FSB thugs! He’s attempting a classic Tango Foxtrot Upskirt!” yells the operative as he holds the nefarious server in a headlock.
“I am from Poland! I have no business of Putin!” protests the pinned suspect.
“How did you know I was going to ask about your Russian connections? Everyone knows that in 1980, Vladimir Putin impregnated several hundred Polish women to create deep cells for after the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, when these offspring would be released with the genetic memories and brainwashing left by their father and infiltrate fellow NATO members. Are you here to kill me, you illegitimized son of a bitch?”
“Why-y are you doing this?!”
“He’s been trained in resistance. NORM! Commandeer the Kickin’ Kahlua Kustard sauce from the Mozzarella Stick Station!”
Norm sprints to the interactive sauce bar and grabs the condiment. In his rush, he spills the sugary sauce everywhere.
The cloaked interrogator restrains the possible FSB assassin in a chair, tying his limbs with a concatenated cord of sanitized napkins usually reserved for those who order the ribs. He places a napkin over the Pole/Russian’s mouth, and grabs the repurposed sundae sauce from Norm.
“Who is your handler? What is the protocol of your PAL NTSC black op?”
Only muffled screams in reply.
“You’ve brought me to this.”
The mysterious genius plugs his suspect’s nose and begins pouring Fair-inara Sauce into his mouth. This only produces more garbled yelling.
“JUST GIVE IT UP! Who is your THOT mole in NATO? Did you leak my erotic emails to the student, in ‘09?!”
He pours again.
With more yells muffled by both the napkin and the thick, sugary sauce d’Mussolini’s is famous for, the man falls over.
“Damnit. This guy is good. Take him in the back, see if he has any biomods that lead back to the Kremlin. He sure as hell isn’t going to voluntarily tell us anything.”
Norm tugs at the sauce-covered man’s pants leg, sliding him out of the Appetizer Arena as horrified onlookers try in vain not to notice.
Wasserman-Schultz is long gone by the time I come out of my defensive fugue state. Although I still have 13 minutes left on my Silly Seasonings salad bar card I decide to forego the time, before I too become a victim of the witch hunt.
The Hillary Men don’t control everything, and I have a convention to cover.
Carl “The Dig” Diggler has covered national politics for 30 years and is the host of the Digcast, a weekly podcast on iTunes and Soundcloud. Got a question for the Dig? E-mail him firstname.lastname@example.org or Tweet to @carl_diggler.