Chapter 2: The Golden Fiddle

    Dr. Pangloss was not the type of person who liked being silenced, and the more the public shamed him, the more determined he became to stop the conspiracy theorists from spreading their fictitious historical accounts. After the Democrat conspiracy theorists had taken control of both the House and Senate, they passed sweeping legislation banning any type of gathering where the official story would be discussed, and then they instituted harsh punishments for those who broke their new regulations.

    What bothered Pangloss the most, though, were the reports he had heard about the disappearing scientists. Scientists, mathematicians, and other important people of reason had begun disappearing all across the globe. The disappearance of these scientists coincided with the disappearance of their peer-reviewed bodies of work as well. People began fearing that they too would disappear if they didn’t do what they were told.

    Rumors began to surface that the scientists who had disappeared were not dead, but instead they had found a secret hideout where they could escape their persecutors. Somewhere deep in the unexplored wilderness of Asia, scientists had discovered a hidden sanctuary where they could continue their research without fear of being silenced. Professor Pangloss made it his number one goal to uncover the truth behind these disappearances and to restore the official story to its rightful place in the history books.

    He spoke one day with an old colleague of his in Germany, a few months before he too disappeared. His colleague, Professor Thorne, told him that he had learned of a secret meeting organized by a rogue professor from the University of Washington, where students and faculty met to discuss the official story away from the watchful eyes of the conspiracy theorists and their thought police.

    Thorne told his old friend “I am planning to go there and become a part of this movement. These meetings, they’re the largest gatherings of their kind in North America since the conspiracy theorists took power.” Soon after their conversation, Thorne disappeared, and Pangloss was left with no clues to his whereabouts. He knew this secret meeting in Seattle was the only lead he had, so he booked a hotel and flew to Washington.

    Pangloss arrived in Seattle late in the afternoon, and after dropping his belongings at the budget motel, he made his way to the University of Washington campus. He was determined to find out who this professor was and what they might know about his friend and the secret hideout of the last true scientists.

    As he walked across campus, the sun hung lazily in the sky, just an hour away from sunset. He had nothing to go on but rumors and innuendo, but he scoured over all of the newsstands and kiosks he could find. He didn’t know what to look for, but he knew they had to communicate with each other and recruit new students somehow. The campus kiosks and bulletin boards might hold some clue as to where this club was meeting and when. He searched for anything out of the ordinary, anything that might give him a hint.

    Kiosk after kiosk, he pushed flyers aside to see what was hidden beneath. There were fliers on top of fliers hidden beneath posters for on-campus Bible studies and local hip-hop artists. He sifted through what felt like an endless sea of scams offering thousands of dollars a month to fill out surveys and $50 an hour grad student tutors. All of a sudden, he stopped dead in his tracks. There, just below the bright pink pamphlet for a feminist march on Capitol Hill, was a simple black flier that read:

“What is the Truman Dark Experiment?” 

    The flier was printed in black all the way to the margins on a white sheet of paper. The words in the middle were big, bold, and white, and just below them was a Gmail address composed of random letters and numbers. Pangloss ripped the flier from the kiosk and turned it over to see if there were any other clues hidden beneath. “I know I’ve heard these words before,” he said to himself. “Maybe it was in the hallway at Stanford or maybe it was in one of those anonymous online forums where people tell their stories in secret. This is it though,” he thought to himself. “This flier is the clue I was looking for.”

    Professor Pangloss pulled out his phone and sent a message to the email address. He left the subject blank and, for the body, he paused for a moment then typed “What is the Truman Dark Experiment?” He hit the send button then waited. He watched his inbox for a few minutes, hitting refresh every once in a while to see if he would get an undeliverable return message. “Nothing,” he thought, and with nothing to do next, he made his way to a nearby campus café, ordered himself a cappuccino, then sat down to wait.

    Just before the sun dipped below the horizon, the campus lights flickered on one by one, and the crowds of students began to thin. The waiting game had begun, and he tried to keep himself occupied by reading a campus newspaper. When he flipped to page two though, staring back at him was a picture of Director Moore talking about the new campus initiative to remove all books from the library that made reference to the official story. He felt sick to his stomach. Just like that, decades worth of books written about the official story and their breakthrough discoveries in the fields of engineering and architecture – gone, wiped clean.

    The buffoons who designed the twin towers made no plan for the weakening of steel due to fire, which led to their collapse. The design flaws caused the towers to fall at a rapid rate with the first one falling less than an hour after impact. Now, at the hands of conspiracy theorists, all of the books that were written to address the mistakes of those designers would vanish. “How can future designers learn from the mistakes of these morons if they aren’t even allowed to know what really happened?” thought Pangloss.

    As Pangloss waited and drank his coffee, he tried to think about anything but the breakdown of reason that was spreading across every campus in the Western world, and then finding its way to the hallway meetings and water cooler gossip of corporate America. “All of this in the name of the State Science Institute,” he thought in disgust.

    China and Russia were the only true bastions of reason and courage left on the planet. The Western news media, largely controlled by the Democrat conspiracy theorists and their sympathizers, twisted the Russians’ words and silenced the Chinese. There was very little reason or logic left on the news or out on the streets. “All these people, too afraid to stand up for themselves,” thought Pangloss, “allowing themselves to revert to a useless state of polite subservience.”

    He heard a ding on his phone and checked it to see. One new message. “It’s them,” he thought. “It’s really them!” He opened the message and read, “Meet us at the old Irish pub on the corner of 12th and Pine at 8 pm.” He checked his watch, and it was a little past 7. “Perfect, I can head back to the motel for a quick shower and shave and still make it there on time.” He finished his last sip of cappuccino then requested an Uber.

    It was 8:15 when he finally arrived at the pub and to his surprise it wasn’t a quiet little hole-in-the-wall dive bar. There was a bouncer outside checking IDs and the line to enter wrapped its way around the corner and past the building next door. “Shit,” he thought, “I have no way of knowing who’s inside waiting for me. How do I know it’s them?” He stood in line patiently anyway though, because he had already come this far, and there was no turning back.

    After waiting in line for more than an hour, the bouncer let him through the front door into a warm musty room packed elbow to elbow with patrons. He could hear Irish music playing in the background but it was muffled by the overwhelming sounds of people talking, laughing, and singing their own bar songs together. The crowd was a mix of locals and tourists, and the smell of the pub was thick with the scent of beer and whiskey, mixed with the aroma of freshly cooked bar food.

    It was already past nine o’clock and he still wasn’t sure who to look for. As he slowly made his way towards the back of the bar, he saw a stage with a band setting up and a couple of tables with young people decked out in purple and gold. “Those colors, I saw those colors all over campus,” he thought, and with a quick Google search on his phone, he verified his suspicion. “That’s them! Those are the university’s colors. This can’t be a coincidence, it must be them!”

    He pushed his way through the crowd to the group of tables near the stage. As he arrived, he said “Hi, I’m looking for the people who posted this flier.” Then he pulled out the flier and showed it to the group. 

    One of the students quickly looked around the bar then told him “Put that away, it’s not safe, but yeah, you’re in the right place.”

    “Where should I sit?” said the professor.

    The student looked around again then pointed across the table to a young woman standing in front of an empty chair. “Andrea, over there. She is about to leave. If you hurry, you can grab her chair.”

    Pangloss quickly made his way around the table dodging beers and cocktail glasses in the hands of rowdy patrons and he arrived just as Andrea was grabbing her purse to walk away.

    “Can I sit here,” the Professor asked one of the students.

    The student from across the table waved to the other students to let them know it was OK, and with a nod they welcomed him to join them. After the customary small talk, his eyes began to scan the room as the students continued their conversations amongst themselves.

   He didn’t know who he was looking for, but he knew the professor who had organized these meetings had to be nearby. Moving his gaze across the crowd, his eyes landed on a woman sitting two tables over. She was average in height, in her early 30s with a sleek and slender figure. Her long blond hair was parted on the side in a way that framed her face and accentuated her cheekbones and jawline. The hair on the back of her head was drawn up into a ponytail that hung down to the middle of her back. Her skin was a warm light beige with no freckles and her eyebrows were thick and dark. She had a hint of blush on her cheeks, her eyes were delicately lined, and she wore dark black mascara on thick long lashes. Her radiant blue eyes stood out from the electric blue eyeshadow she was wearing. When she smiled and laughed, her lips shone from a thick layer of pink gloss.

    She was casually dressed in a low-cut purple crop top that hugged her curves in all the right places and had a golden “W” in the center. She wore a tight-waisted jean skirt that flared out at her hips, the perfect length to show off her faux suede purple boots that fit snugly against her legs all the way up to her knees.

    She had an air of confidence about her that Pangloss couldn’t deny, and he thought to himself, “It must be her, the professor who organized these meetings. I have to find a way to talk to her.” Before he could make his way to her table, he was interrupted by the sound of bagpipes that cut through the air and sent chills down his spine. Those who weren’t already standing stood up to see what was happening. Walking in a line through the front entrance from outside came a procession of bagpipers, dressed in traditional kilts and plaids. The bagpipers moved in unison, each step perfectly in time with the beat of the song. The piercing, high-pitched notes of the pipes mixed with the deep, resonant drone of the bag, creating a unique and powerful sound. The crowd parted to make way for the procession, and the pub-goers looked on with a mix of curiosity and excitement. The sound of the pipes was both mournful and celebratory, evoking a sense of nostalgia and longing, and the crowd grew silent as the room became filled with the heaviness of the moment.

    Just as the procession reached the back of the room, three Irish singers on stage began singing a traditional Irish song in harmony. The first notes of the fiddle were met with an explosion of clapping and cheering. The sounds of strings and harmony filled the air, and the waiters and waitresses, caught up in the moment, began dancing and singing with the crowd. The bagpipes mixed with the band and the sound of the crowd, creating a chaotic and beautiful symphony of noise, and Pangloss felt himself being swept up in the infectious energy of the music.

    As the traditional Irish song ended, Pangloss peered back across the crowd and caught the eye of the blue-eyed woman again, who was now looking in his direction. They locked eyes at the same moment that the lead singer of the band began to sing “The devil went down to Georgia, he was lookin’ for a soul to steal, He was in a bind ’cause he was way behind, And he was willin’ to make a deal.”

    The crowd erupted again, and this time the waitresses and waiters jumped up on the tables in front of the patrons and danced between glasses, knocking over half-full beers and empty shot glasses. They were joined by the fiddle player who made his way from table to table while playing his devilish song. The blue-eyed woman jumped up on her table too and Pangloss laughed as he watched the students cheer for her as she danced, then with a leap, she landed on his table and continued to dance to the music. A beer spilled on the table though, and suddenly she slipped a little, leaning toward Pangloss then falling into his arms. He was shocked for a moment as the woman was pushed up against his chest before she regained her balance and continued her dance. “Come, dance with me,” she said, and within an instant, she was leading him into the crowd to dance and sing along to the lyrics of the song.

    Sweating and short of breath, the woman leaned in to yell something into his ear over the sound of the music. “Let’s go get a drink. I’m thirsty,” she said. “Follow me.”

    Grabbing his hand, she weaved her way between the rowdy patrons and led him up to the bar. The bar was packed, and the line was long, but she turned to him and smiled, then put her fingers in her mouth and whistled. Right away, one of the bartenders stopped and came over to take her order.

    “It pays to be a regular,” she said. “Can I buy us both a car bomb and a shot of Jameson?” Pangloss smiled and nodded, and she yelled to the bartender, “Two car bombs and two shots of Jameson. Now we’re going to race,” she said to him “and if you lose, you have to buy us another round.”

    “OK, I’ll take that deal,” he said. “You’re on.” Then he stuck out his hand and they shook on it.

    “Are you ready?” she said.

    “Of course I am, are you?” he replied.

    She smiled and counted, “3, 2, 1, GO!!!”

    They dropped the first shot into the glass of Guinness and chugged down their car bombs. Pangloss struggled at first, but finished just in time to see the other professor down not only her own shot of Jameson, but his as well.

    “A deal is a deal,” she said, and he nodded and ordered another round. Just as the drinks arrived she looked at him and said, “This round we’re going to raise the stakes a little. If you lose to me again, not only will you owe me another round, but I’m also going to collect your SOUL!”

    Pangloss looked at her again then stared deep into her bright blue eyes for a moment. She looked back at him but just beneath the blue, he could see flames and a raging fire of passion staring him in the eyes.

    “You’re on,” he said “Are you ready? 3, 2, 1, Go!”

    The race began again, but this time Pangloss slammed his finished glass on the counter as she slammed her empty shot glass. They both reached for his shot at the same time, but he snatched it from the bar before her, then threw it back himself.

    “You lose again,” she said, “pay up.”

    He laughed and yelled to the bartender “Another round.” but two rounds later, the Professor finally gave up. “I need to go outside for some fresh air.” he said.

    With a smile and a nod, she made her way with him to the entrance.

    The harsh cold air outside was a welcome change from the warm crowded bar. He didn’t feel quite as woozy standing outside in the cold, and the fresh air was exactly what he needed. Lighting a cigarette, she turned to him and asked “Do you smoke?” 

   “No,” he replied, “I gave that up a long time ago.”

    “Good for you, it’s a nasty habit but one of the vices I permit myself to enjoy on occasion. The first hit is always the best. It tastes a little nasty as the smoke hits your tongue, but after a few seconds the nicotine sets in and makes its way over your body like the fingers of a thousand lovers just beneath the skin.”

    She smiled and closed her eyes as the first hit set in. “The first one that you’ve had in a long time, that one is always the best, but the second drag is almost as good. That second hit sweeps over your body like a true love’s warm embrace, and you want the feeling to last forever. But, as the fire goes out, and the little fag has nothing left to give, you flick it away like a piece of trash because you’ve gotten everything you needed. Just as quickly as you fell in love, you erase it from your memory, with a fading high and dirty taste in your mouth the only lingering clues that it ever happened.”

    She glanced at her cigarette, placing it between her lips for another drag. “You’re Professor Pangloss, aren’t you?” she said as she exhaled. Excitement shone in her eyes as she continued, “I’ve read your book, ‘The Evidence is Clear’ at least three times.”

    “Wow!” Pangloss exclaimed, “It’s not often that I meet someone as passionate about the official story as you are.”

    “I know,” she agreed, “Everyday, I meet new students and faculty members who say they believe in the official story, but keep their minds open to other scenarios, like the illogical ramblings of conspiracy theorists. They think there could be other explanations for the events of 9/11, but I always have to correct them. The official story is not just the best logical explanation…” 

    “It’s the only logical explanation.” They both said at the same time, locking eyes.

    They stared into each other’s eyes in silence for a moment before she took another drag and said, “So tell me, Professor, what brought you here? You didn’t just come here to buy me a bunch of shots, did you?”

    His cheeks turned red as she smiled at him, and he tried to hide his embarrassment.

“No,” he said, “but I did come here to find you. I heard rumors about your underground movement and I think you might be the only person who can help me. I have no other leads to go on. The conspiracy theorists are trying to discredit my work and silencing anyone who disagrees with them. I need to know… where are the scientists who are disappearing, and what is the Truman Dark Experiment?”

    Her smile faded as she scanned the faces of the people standing outside the entrance.

    “Walk!” she said.

    “What?” said Pangloss in a startled tone.

    “Come with me,” she said, grabbing his arm and quickly pulling him away from the pub. “It’s not safe here. Follow me and I’ll tell you what I know.” She held his arm tightly as they walked briskly a few blocks away. “Okay,” she said, “I don’t think we’ve been followed, so it should be safe to talk.”

    “What is the Truman Dark Experiment?” he asked her a second time.

    “I’ll tell you what I know, but I don’t know much. I know that it’s a top-secret experiment that took place during the Truman administration. Some of the scientists who had been involved in the Manhattan Project were asked to help with a new project for the military, but the project was eventually scrapped due to lack of funding.”

    “What was the experiment?” asked the Professor.

    “No one knows for sure, but the rumor is that the experiment never actually ended. It just continued on, but was kept so secret that even Truman himself was left in the dark.”

    “And what about the scientists? What happened to them? Is it true they’re living in Asia somewhere?”

    “I have a friend in Paris who met a scientist who claimed to have been there. He told her that he left their secret hideout because of a new discovery he made that he wanted to share with the world.”

    “What was the discovery?” Pangloss asked.

    “He didn’t say, but a few years later, my friend heard of a scientist in Central America who matched the same description and was working on a new type of airship. She believes they’re the same person,” she replied.

    “But what about the Truman Dark Experiment? Did he mention anything about it? What did he say?” Pangloss pressed.

    “Well, that’s the interesting part. The scientists working on the Truman Dark Experiment were invited to the secret hideout to continue their research. According to my friend, they succeeded in their endeavor and their experiment can finally prove the official story, in a way that even the conspiracy theorists cannot deny,” she said, her excitement evident in her expression.  

     Professor Pangloss looked at her in amazement and asked, “How do we get our hands on the results of the experiment?”

    “I know a professor of philosophy in Portland,” she said, “who knows one of the original scientists of the Truman Dark Experiment who hasn’t disappeared yet. We should go see him and find out how to get in touch with that scientist.”

    “Perfect!” he said. “But what about the hideout of the last true scientists? How do we get there?”

    “Well, that might be a bit more difficult. We’ll need to track down the scientist in Central America. He’s the only person I know who could lead us to the hideout.”

    “So, how do we find him?” asked the professor.

    “I’ll contact my friend in Paris. I think she might know,” she told him.

Pangloss stumbled for a few steps after stepping on a crack in the sidewalk, but quickly regained his balance.

    “I’m OK, I’m OK,” he said with a smile. “What now?”

     She stopped walking and turned to look him in the eyes again. “There’s something I’ve been meaning to say to you. I need to warn you about something. Full disclosure” she said then paused before saying “I’m into men but I’m GAY AS FUCK! Do you understand what I’m saying?”

    “You’re gay?” Said Pangloss with a confused look on his face.

    “Yeah, you know, like I’m gay BECAUSE I like men.” she said to him with a serious look on her face, “Do you understand what I’m saying?”

    Pangloss stood there confused for a moment until suddenly his eyes grew wide and he scanned her body up and down, then instantly regretted it and dropped his eyes to the ground with a look of remorse. His cheeks became a bright red with embarrassment because he knew she had seen him scanning her body. He regained his composure though, and lifted his eyes to hers. The blazing fire was still burning deep beneath her blue eyes, but this time he noticed something else. He noticed a small hint of vulnerability. She was trying hard to hide it, but just below the surface was the tiniest hint of fear. With all of the sincerity he could muster, the professor told her, “Yeah, I get it. I understand.”

    She squinted her eyes a little for a few seconds then approached him. Her movements were fluid and smooth and his heart beat a little faster with each step she took in his direction. She inched her way closer and closer to him, then stood so close to his face that he could smell the Baileys and Jameson on her breath as she exhaled.

    Pangloss tried not to flinch as she moved her head in large exaggerated motions, scanning him up and down his body – in the most obvious way possible. Then, with a whisper, she said, “I’m going to kiss you,” and paused to bite her bottom lip a little then moisten them both with her tongue. Without warning, he felt her hand reach out and grab his, running her fingers along the top, then wrapping them around to the inside of his palm. His heart began beating so loud he was afraid she could hear it, and his mind went numb.

    With her fingers tightly wrapped around his hand, she pulled it toward her while scanning his face and watching his expression. He felt like his body had become possessed by a demon from whose clutches there was no escape, and the moment the demon moved his lips in anticipation, she slipped her phone into his hand and took a step back to say, “Leave me your number so that we can meet up tomorrow.”

    Pangloss felt dizzy and could barely comprehend her words, but slowly, as his cognition returned, he looked down at his hand and typed out his number on her phone before handing it back to her.

    “You know,” he said, “We’ve been talking and hanging out this whole time and I completely forgot to ask you your name.”

    “One second” she said as she typed something out with her thumbs. “There you go!”

    The professor’s body jumped at the dinging and vibration sounds coming from his pocket and he tried to hide his embarrassment as he realized what it was.

    “My name is Robin” she said, “and now you have my number too.” Then, she turned around and started walking away. “Goodnight, Professor,” she yelled as she faced away from him, “you’re drunk and need to get some rest.”

    Professor Pangloss was so confused and startled by her abrupt goodbye that he could barely think of what to say in response. Instead, he just stood there speechless and watched her knee-high boots dodge in and out of the shadows of the dark alleyway. 

    After about 30 yards, she stopped and turned around again to say, “I still owe you a kiss, Professor… but don’t forget. You still owe me your soul.”