Investigating Dicks: The Wikipedia Noir Chronicles

 Originally published in Wikipedia User:TheCapn Talk and adapted for WWHP by Rome Viharo.

Written by  ‘The Capn’.

This little narrative is a work of fiction, designed to amuse (mostly myself) and reference WP issues I care about in a allegorical light. To those who get easily upset at such things, I’m not talking about you and I do not think there are actually murderous conspiracies diabolically plotting against innocent editors. That gives people too much credit.

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G’mornin Sinebot, any news? *

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I reached the third floor landing, leaving the ominously creaking stairs behind as I walked into the hall toward my office. I passed the elevator on my way. You could always tell when a newcomer arrived; they were the only ones brave or foolish enough to get in that rattling deathtrap. I had checked the most recent inspection notice on the elevator once, just out of curiosity, which convinced me to avoid using it ever again. I didn’t think it was right to make anything that elderly lug me up and down floors.

I came to the glass door that had my name helpfully spelled out in gold letters: THE CAP’N, PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR. I figured it would be useful in case anyone was worried they were in a supermarket instead of a rundown private eye’s office. The door squeaked appropriately when I opened it. It used to open quiet as a mouse, but I’d worked hard to damage that door until it squeaked. Everything else in the building was so decrepit it seemed offensive to have one object that worked perfectly. God knows I don’t.

“Mornin’, Cap’n,” muttered my receptionist as I walked in. She didn’t look up from her typing, her eyes fixed on her work. I say her work because I know I didn’t have enough business to keep her so busy.

“Morning, Sinebot,” I said. We never added the “good.” How often was it, really?

“Any news?” I asked as I hung up my coat and hat.

She held up a file folder, her lips pursed as she looked at me for the first time. I sighed. “Who was it this time?”

Barleybannocks,” she said. I took the folder silently, shaking my head.

I walked into my private office and closed the door. I sank into my worn leather chair, breathing in the familiar smell of dust and disappointment. I set the folder on my desk, started to open it and thought better of it. Opening a drawer, I pulled out a bottle of Irish whiskey and poured more than a healthy dose into the stout crystal glass that was the only thing on my desk that seemed well-used.

“Here’s to you, Barleybannocks,” I said, draining the glass. Somehow it refilled itself. Damned strange how that works when you’re drinking by yourself.

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The Sheldrake Files…again. *

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I opened the file and reviewed the case. It was the same MO as the others. An editor had started to work on the Rupert Sheldrake article, apparently unaware of the danger that lurked there. The Sheldrake page was like running with the bulls. Sure, you got to hang with big, important beasts, but if you go left when they want to go right, they’ll run you into the ground. Or straight off of Wikipedia, as the case may be.

I flipped through the pages, looking for patterns and finding too many to ignore. An editor who thought the article was biased toward skeptical activism? Check. Sources that challenged the dominant point of view? Check. A push for focusing on biographical perspectives rather than critiques of viewpoints? Double check.

Poor, sorry bastard. I knew what was coming even before I flipped to the pages detailing how Barleybannocks had been shuffled off this cyber coil. Those who ran the show on the Sheldrake page knew what they were doing, and they did it well. I wasn’t a fan of conspiracy theories, but even to a cynic there was an unavoidable pattern. Whether the skeptical editors were passing around secret messages or just following each other’s lead, the result was the same. A gag order on dissent for the Sheldrake article, and for the suckers that didn’t listen, the procedure followed the same steps as closely as a dance routine.

First would come blanket reverts and claims that his sources were irrelevant, then warnings to shut up or shove off. If he was still foolish enough to persist they’d put away the bats and bring out the big guns. They’d trot out claims that he was violating WP:FRINGE by disagreeing with them, then the whole gang would step forward and declare he was a menace and needed to be neutralized. If that didn’t work they’d break out the showstopper: announce that he was yet another sockpuppet of the Tumbleman and take him out. And I don’t mean on a date.

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Chump or champ? *

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I pressed the button on the intercom.

“Sinebot,” I said into the musty microphone, “could you bring me the files on the Tumbleman case?”

“Again? If you say so, boss,” the intercom reluctantly squawked back.

I pushed the Barleybannocks file aside as the door creaked open and Sinebot staggered in carrying an armful of paperwork. She set down the mountainous file on my desk, which groaned in protest. It didn’t like to work that hard. Who did?

The well-worn cover sheet informed me in type that it contained the case files for THE TUMBLEMAN. Scrawled under that was a cheerful note in Sinebot’s handwriting that said LOST CAUSE.

“It’s been months, Cap’n,” she said. “You need to let the case go. He was probably guilty, anyway.”

“Maybe,” I said, “but of what? All anyone remembers now is the charge of sockpuppeting, but that wasn’t even what he was b locked for. He was kicked off for competency or trolling issues, though no one was ever able to prove any intent or abuse. Not to mention he was blocked from speaking in his own defense…”

“Boss, this case has been closed for ages. No one cares anymore, why do you?”

“Because this blocking stinks to high heaven,” I said, “and people do care. They care enough to use this case as a precedent and excuse to bump off anyone who crosses them. How many accounts need to take a dirt nap before I care? We’ve seen attacks on Oh Boy Chicken AgainLou SanderIantresman, Shaynekori, Alfonzo Green and now Barleybannocks. All of them complain that something smells about the Sheldrake page, and all of them get stuffing knocked out of them shortly afterward. The ones throwing them out the window claim these folks are either all incompetent trolls or sockpuppets for Tumbleman. The question of whether that’s actually accurate doesn’t seem to bother anyone. Like I said, it stinks.”

“Ever hear of Occam’s Razor, boss?”

“Yeah,” I said, frowning. “What about it?”

“If you keep turning your head looking for something that’s more complicated than necessary, you’ll cut your own throat.”

“I’m not sure that’s how that saying goes…”

“Well,” Sinebot said, shrugging, “that’s the way it is. There’s nothing you can do but plenty you can lose.”

With that philosophical finale she went back to the reception desk. I didn’t hear her shut my door, but I did hear her words echo in my mind.

“Nothing I can do…” I muttered. My glass miraculously filled itself again, so I shot its contents down to be polite. She was probably right. The wise thing to do would be to shut up, ignore the Sheldrake case and find other work.

I’ve been called many things, but wise isn’t one of them. An hour and eight phone calls later I found myself staring at a desk full of notes. The case was tricky, no doubt about it. The trouble was, Tumbleman hadn’t gone down easy. They’d hit him hard, and the evidence on that first job was shaky as a house of cards. But the problem lay in the fact he’d gotten back up after they told him to stay down. I could blame them for that first hit, but it was hard to argue he hadn’t defied them by coming back again and again.

Philosophy Fellow, Halfman Halfthing, No more scary monsters, each one a different alias he’d adopted after the previous had been blocked. I didn’t see any evidence of him using two at the same time, but there was no denying he didn’t accept his blocking lying down. Part of me respected that moxie. The other part counted the innocent editors who had been blocked with the excuse of possibly being another incarnation of Tumbleman. More innocents had fallen than Tumbleman aliases and I seemed to be the only sap who was bothered by the collateral damage. Well, maybe Tumbleman was, but no one was asking him.

I closed the file and sighed. Sinebot was right, it wasn’t worth getting involved. Tumbleman had brought about his own demise, there was nothing to be done now, even if there should or could’ve been once. I had no horse in this race and too much to lose if the skeptical gang took aim at my little operation. I had my dingy office, my nonexistent clients, my surly receptionist…

My phone jangled on my desk, loud and demanding. Like Pavlov’s dog, the clanging bell elicited an emotional response. I sure as hell wasn’t salivating, though.

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A shutter in the night *

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“Yeah?” I answered the phone wearily.

“This the Cap’n?”

The voice was cool, casual and oblivious to pain. It was the voice of every dentist or car mechanic you’ve ever met.

“Sure, let’s say so.”

You’ve been asking a lot of questions,” the voice continued, “questions that don’t concern you.” I sat up a little straighter. I like to keep proper posture when I’m being threatened. Good manners.

“If they didn’t concern me,” I said, “I wouldn’t be asking them, would I?”

The voice chuckled.

“What’re you, some New Age, Kool-Aid drinking true believer?”

I paused, glancing at the Flying Spaghetti Monster picture I had framed on the wall. It was next to a pile of letters from various faiths warning me of my impending damnation, loss of karma, or negative energy feedback loop.

“No,” I said, “not exactly.”

“Then it sounds like you oughtta find different questions to ask, pal. It won’t be good for you to keep walking down the path you’re on. Might take you into some bad neighborhoods.”

I laughed.

“Friend,” I said to the man who was not my friend, “you have no idea what kind of neighborhoods I’m used to.”

“Let me put it another way,” the voice continued, colder now. “If you keep asking about things that don’t concern you, folks might start to wonder why. They might look at the issues you’re bringing up and remember someone else who did the same thing. Someone who isn’t around anymore. I’m afraid they might even start to think you might be that same person, snooping where you aren’t welcome.”

“I’m not Tumbleman,” I said, growing irritated at the game, “and you know that or we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

“Do I know that? I’m not sure. Maybe it would be safer to bump you off, just in case you are Tumbleman. You wouldn’t be the first, pal.”

I heard the phone creak as my knuckles whitened around it.

“And you wouldn’t be the first to try it on me,” I said, “or to try threatening folks to keep dissent silent.”

Another chuckle rasped over the phone.

“Well, the old tricks are the best tricks, they say. The point is, whatever neighborhoods you’re familiar with, you apparently don’t know the rules of this one. You challenge our evidence, you’re a threat. You try to argue with our point of view, you’re a threat. You try to overturn the way we do things, pal, you’re definitely a threat. And threats go the way of Tumbleman.”

“Because every threat is either Tumbleman in disguise or someone working for him? How convenient.”

“It is, isn’t it? Hm. What a coincidence.”

“Yeah,” I said, “what a coincidence.”

“Now,” continued the voice calmly, “you shouldn’t get the impression that you’re going up against some kind of organization. That’s not it at all. It’d be silly, paranoid even, to think we’re anything but unconnected individuals with no agenda.”

“Right,” I said, “you’re unconnected individuals who just happen to be in the same place at the same time, saying the same things and targeting the same people for the same reasons.”

“Glad we’re on the same page,” said the voice pleasantly. “Don’t ever come sniffing around this case again.”

The line went dead, as if to drive the point home one more time.

I hung the phone up slowly. My glass didn’t fill on its own this time, I had to reach over to the bottle, open it up and pour myself a double. I sipped it slowly, letting the smooth burn linger.

“Ever,” the voice had said. If only it hadn’t. That word and I have a complicated relationship. I usually hear it in the company of a “don’t,” and I traditionally end up telling both words to go to hell. I saw no reason to buck tradition.

I pressed the button on the intercom.

“Sinebot,” I said, “get me everything we’ve got on every case related to Rupert Sheldrake or Tumbleman. Forward all my calls, I’m hitting the streets. I’ve got work to do.”

I set out seven shots on my desk, one for my belly and six for my hip. It was likely to get unpleasant and while I didn’t intend on firing the first salvo, I’d be damned if I’d go down without getting in a retort.

More to come.