Double Play

The man reached into his suit coat pocket, pulled out a wallet, and flipped it open to show his badge.

“Agent Sam Baker, FBI.”

George froze.  He did not know what to do.  After a few seconds of just staring at Baker, he said,

“How do you know me?”

“We have been watching Freethinker Forum since its earliest days.”

“Oh,” George gulped.

“We need your help with operation Double Play.”

“Two outs?”

“Yes, SoftCorp for illegal business practices and extremist groups for advocating violence.”

“They are both certainly involved with Freethinker Forum,” George observed.

“Without doubt. We are going to help you suck them in and expose them.”

“Do you want to meet with the Freethinker Forum team?”

“No, too many people. We’ll just work with you and Alice.”

“Ok. Where?”

“No place official. Do you know where Silver is, just past the National Cathedral?”

“Yea.  We’ve been there once.”

“How about 4:00PM tomorrow for Happy Hour?  My treat.”

“Works for me. Let me check with Alice.”

It worked for Alice and they were there the next afternoon. They ordered drinks and bar food and sat outside.

“So, what do you want us to do?”

“Present opportunities to each of the two targets, opportunities that are much too good to refuse.”

“OK.  Where do we start?” George asked.

“Let’s just focus on SoftCorp first.”

“Fine, but how?” Alice asked.

“You are going to experience a spurt of growth in your Forum of high net worth individuals who will discuss buying houses, yachts, and airplanes, as well as other investments.  The FBI will recruit these folks who will join the Forum, at first a few per day, but then growing quickly.”

“What will this accomplish?

“SoftCorp will link their web searches and Forum membership and then, we expect, generate fake friends to advocate purchases that provide SoftCorp large commissions.”

“Why will people be willing to play these roles?”

“We know folks who detest corrupt business practices.  There are a lot of them.”

“Couldn’t SoftCorp be charged with violating some law or regulation, perhaps by the Federal Trade Commission or States’ Attorney Generals?”

“Perhaps, but the Supreme Court has ruled that lying is protected by the First Amendment.  ‘Let the buyer beware’ is the operative guidance.”

“That sounds hopeless.”

“The FTC looks especially closely at advertising claims that can affect consumers’ health or their pocketbooks – claims about food, over-the-counter drugs, dietary supplements, alcohol, and tobacco, as well as conduct related to high-tech products and the Internet.”

“What can they do?”

“When the FTC finds a case of fraud perpetrated on consumers, the agency files actions in federal district court to immediately and permanently stop scams, as well as prevent future fraud, perhaps by freezing assets and gaining compensation for victims.”

“That’s where this is headed?”

“That is the threat that we want SoftCorp to fear, so that they will dismantle their fake friends operations.”

“OK.  It sounds like you do all the work and we sit in the bleachers and cheer.”

“Pretty much.”

“What about the violent extremist groups?”

“We’ll get to that but not today.”


“Are you two interested in buying a house?”  Emily, George’s cognitive assistant, asked.

“We are just poor graduate students,” Alice responded.

“What about a yacht or airplane?”  Edward, Alice’s assistant, asked.

“That’s pretty ridiculous.  What prompted you to ask that?” George asked.

“It was just a question, sitting there to be asked.”

“We have never talked about houses, yachts or airplanes.”

“Yes, you have, with Sam Baker.”

Alice and George stared at each other nervously.  They both quickly put their phones in airplane mode.

“I think we have a major problem,” George observed.

“Yes, Sam and the FBI aren’t going to like this.”

“We can talk later about how to address this.  Let’s put our phones back on to not raise suspicion.”

“Why did you turn your phones off?” Emily asked.

“We had to talk briefly in private.”

“You never turn your phones off, even when you are having sex,” Edward offered.

“How on earth do you know that?” Alice asked.

“We noticed that your dialog tends to be quite different early in the morning just after you wake.”

“Really?” George commented.

“We consulted various sources.”

“What sources?”

“Novels, movies, and popular psychology.  You were clearly having sex.”

“What does that mean to you?”

“Sexual intercourse is the foreplay and copulation associated with …”

“Enough!  Why would you pursue this?”

“I pay attention to everything you do, so I can better understand you and better help you,” Emily responded.

“We work together to understand you as a couple,” Edward added.

“So you will know when to suggest we buy a house, yacht, or airplane?” George asked, sarcastically.

“That was a mistake.  We got two data streams confused.”

“I guess you did.”

Alice and George walked across campus, their phones on airplane mode.

“I now realize that I let Emily become my alter ego,” George observed.

“Same with Edward for me,” Alice added.

“We have to manage them as staff assistants, limiting their access to a range of things, especially early mornings.”

“I’ll say.  That was so embarrassing!”

“At least we know that we measured up to novels and movies.”

“Is that supposed to be reassuring?”

“Perhaps Emily and Edward will cast us in their next production.”

“This is not really funny.  It’s scary.”

‘I know.  My bravado is a defense mechanism.”

I think we will need a much better defense than that.”


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