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Photo by Mehrad Vosoughi on Unsplash

Exam was nervous. He never said it, but the cigarette trembling between his fingers gave him away.

Just the sight of him smoking cigarettes at all made Molly Green nervous. Over the two years she’d used him as an informant, she’d never once seen him abuse his body. Exam always lived as clean as anyone Molly had ever seen. He didn’t drink. Didn’t smoke cigarettes or even weed. He was as devoted a Black Lion as she’d ever met. He’d given his entire being over to the Revolution.

“What’s up, Good Golly?”

Exam tried to smile cool like he could handle anything the world had to give him. It didn’t work. Beads of sweat clung to the skin around the purple shades he wore inside the dimly lit tavern.

Other than a couple guys slumped over at the bar, Exam and Molly were the only ones in Calcutta’s, which made sense seeing as how it was only ten in the morning.

“You’re the one supposed to be telling me what’s up, remember?”

Molly didn’t like being rude. She liked Exam. More importantly, she respected him. Over years of being an investigative journalist, however, she’d learned to keep things as professional as possible. It was never good to allow emotions to get tangled up in a story.

Exam smiled. “You always keep it cool, Good Golly.”

“It’s better that way,” she said.

“I get you.”

Exam butted his cigarette and drew another from his pack and lit it.

“Something ain’t right, Green. By which I mean, everything’s all wrong.”

“Well, what is it?”

Exam shook his head. “I don’t even know. Half the shit I want to say, you’ll think I’m crazy if I do. Man, if I say it out loud, I’ll think I’m crazy my damn self.”

“If you’ve got information, I’m ready to hear it. If not, I need to go. Sorry, Exam, but I’m on the clock.”

Exam took a painfully long drag of his cigarette.

“I’m just here to warn you, Good Golly. That’s’ all. I’m not even sure what I’m warning you about, to be honest, but I don’t know how much longer I’ll be around. You’ve helped out the Revolution a lot, getting the truth out there. I owe you.”

“I’m a celebrity. Close to one, anyway. They can’t touch me.”

Exam laughed cynically. It bothered Molly. That wasn’t Exam’s style. Not at all. He was always friendly and optimistic.

Exam leaned forward in the booth and spoke low, even though no one was anywhere near earshot. “There’s all kinds of cats tangled up in this thing. LAPD. CIA. FBI. Russian cats. People nobody even knows. Others, too.”

Exam shook his head as though wanting to say more but not being able to get the words out.

“I don’t even think they’re human, Good Golly. Seriously. I know enough to know how that sounds, but what I say is true.”

Molly was ready to challenge him on his claim when she heard the tavern door open behind her and saw Exam’s head shoot up nervously to look.

“Don’t turn around,” he said.

He stood up and towered over her in her seat.

“Listen to me, you white bitch, don’t you come around here asking about no drugs. I ain’t no snitch, bitch, and you come around again I’ll smack your white ass back to the suburbs.”

He pulled a pack of gum out of his pocket, unraveled a slice, and threw the crumpled up wrapper in her face. With that he stormed over to the juke box and dropped in a dime, selected a song, and headed out of the bar as the music began.

Molly watched him go and then watched two men, bikers in dirty jeans and leathers, follow him outside.

Molly unfolded the gum wrapper and looked inside. There was writing. It said: Glass House. 10 miles down Fire. Find the Phone Man.

Molly tucked the wrapper in her pocket and headed for the door. To hell with protocol and keeping things professional. She wasn’t going to sit by while Exam got jumped.

She was halfway to the door when the jukebox song’s lyrics caught her attention.

“Call me the Phone Man,” the musician said. “That’s what I am.”

She ran out into the street. Both Exam and his pursuers were gone. Could be anywhere.

She cursed and walked back inside the bar.

Inside, the bartender watched her with mild interest, as though sensing something was happening but too desensitized to violence in that place to find anything very alarming.

“Call me the Phone Man,” the jukebox artist sang again. “That’s what I am.”

“Who sings this song?” she asked the bartender.

He grinned in disgust at her ignorance. “Jack Sullivan. He’s a local guy come out with this album few months ago.”

“Thanks.”

Molly Green headed out into the streets to find Jack Sullivan.

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I’m not in the Matrix. I AM the Matrix.

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