|Cloak and dagger stuff right here in Crawfordsville|
Journalism can be a dangerous field, no doubt. Far too many good men and women have paid dearly to shed light on dangerous situations - especially foreign correspondents. It's not a subject to make light of.
However, I'm the first to admit that here in the breadbasket of the nation, things usually aren't that tough. In four decades in this business I've had exactly three death threats and at least two of those didn't seem too serious. On the other hand, I broke my back once when I was bowling, so you can never be too sure where danger lurks.
As you might then guess, cloak and dagger stuff isn't exactly my strong suit. Which is why my day got really weird recently when the phone rang.
"The Paper, Timmons."
"I've got important information for you. Meet me in the parking garage."
The voice was raspy and I couldn't really tell if it was a man or a woman. But I did know one thing for sure.
"Uh, Crawfordsville doesn't have a parking garage."
"I know that," Raspy said. "It's too dangerous to meet in Crawfordsville. I'll meet you in Indianapolis."
"Oh sure. There's one or two over there," I quipped. We big-time journalists often use sarcasm as a tool. "Want to narrow it down a bit there, Sport? And what's this about anyways? And who are you?"
Hey, big-time journalists get paid to ask those deep, probing questions.
"It doesn't matter who I am," they said. "But you're going to want to talk to me. I've got a lot of inside information that I'll share with you. But only on the condition that you never identify me. Ever!"
This was starting to sound like a bad B movie.
"Yeah, thanks. I think you meant to call the other paper in town. Let me get you that numb-"
"I'm calling you!" they rasped. "You've got the only paper that gives unbiased reports. You guys don't have your noses stuck so far up-"
"Yeah, I get it," I said. "How can I help you?"
"I know things. I know things about the courthouse, the Ben Hur building, the old hospital."
Wow, the Montgomery County Trifecta!
"Look, I'm sure you do," I said. "But-"
"Shut up and listen!" they rasped. I heard the quick fffwwwtttt sound a match makes being lit. A long exhale and I could almost smell the cigarette. "If anyone finds out I'm talking to you I'll get it."
Get it? What's next, they're going to say they might get rubbed out?
"Alright," I said. "I'll talk to you, but no promises yet. And I'm not driving to Indianapolis. So if you want to talk it's going to be right here."
"Fine. Do you know the alley by the courthouse?"
"There's a building with a garage entrance behind it. It's usually open and it's dark in there. Meet me there at midnight."
"I don't think so."
"Because that's the other paper."
We agreed on a spot - hey, it wouldn't be a secret if I told you - and I showed up at the appointed hour. It was dark and cold. I turned the collar up on my trench coat (you expected a down jacket in this story?) and blew into my hands. Just when I was ready to chalk this whole thing up to a terrible decision on my part, I heard footsteps. Behind me. Close.
"Don't turn around," the voice rasped. I could smell the cigarette. "It's best for both of us if you don't know who I am."
"Come on," I said. "This cloak and dagger stuff is getting kind of silly, don't you think? Now, I'm going to turn around and-"
And a hard point poked me in the back. Holy crap.
"Don't make me do something neither one of us wants," they said. "Just listen. I know for a fact that the courthouse in Lebanon does not have anything close to the security at their courthouse like we do and they're laughing at us. In fact, one of the people who work there said if anyone tries to make it so difficult for people to get in to the courthouse, they'll quit."
OK, raspy voice had my attention.
"I know for a fact that there's a bunch of grumbling and some talk about a petition because certain people get to bypass security while others have to take off shoes, belts and get treated like a common criminal.
"I know for a fact that the smoking ban on the grounds of the courthouse is going over like a lead balloon and I know that some of the employees over there have a new nickname for the building."
"What is it?" I asked.
"We'll save that for next time. I need to know I can trust you . . . That you will take what I'm giving you and get it in front of those who really matter, the taxpayers."
Before they walked away, they told me not to turn around and not to try to follow them. They pushed the cold steel a little harder into my back.
"I can't believe you pulled a gun on me," I said.
"Gun? What gun? It's an umbrella. But don't turn around!"
I stood still. Don't ask me why.
"Wait," I said. "What if I need to reach you? And what do I call you?" I asked. "I need some sort of name to attribute these quotes to."
"I'll be giving you information that could cost me my job. They'll barbecue me like a goat on a spit if they find out who I am."
Parking garages? Watergate? Political games? Cloak and dagger? Deep Throat?
My new source needed a name that would protect their identity. Considering everything, only one thing seemed appropriate - Deep Goat. Stay tuned.
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