I tore open the wrapper of Double Bubble Gum, popped the archi-sweet content into my mouth, then unfolded the eagerly-awaited Fleurs fortune that told my destiny.
"What`s it say?" my friend inquired.
My mouth dropped open.
"You will die tonight."
He slammed on the breaks.
"Bullshit, Tom. No fortune says that. Let me see it."
"Well, you gotta admit that everybody dies," I noted. "If fortunes and horoscopes tell the truth, someday they will say it`s your turn "
Policemen coming the other way noticed my friend`s erratic stop. Damn! I silently exclaimed in The Da Vinci Code italics expressing innermost, unvoiced thoughts. The cops made a U-turn, pulled up behind us.
"You want to have some fun?" my friend whispered.
"Do it! I love big surprises."
He rolled down the window. Before the cop could say a word, my friend blurted out: "Why should I lie, ossifer? I have nothing to hide."
Bingo -- instant trip downtown. They searched our car, interrogated us for two hours, tested us for alcohol and found...absolutely nothing. They took us to the front office, told us to sit.
We gazed in adolescent wonder at the brave new world afforded by the police station. While waiting for who-in-the-hell-knows-what, we started making jokes about faces on "The 10 Most Wanted" poster:
#10. Neither of us knew exactly what a vestibule was. We did know, however, the fat lady looked exactly like one.
#9. "That guy is a smiling pancake."
The cops overheard the observation, repeated it. The floodgates opened; a torrent of laughter flowed. The cops joined in. Like us, they were bored to death.
They quickly realized what the deal was. They let us go; no charges. We disappeared into the night.
I cannot explain why that incident from so far away -- a sort of dream within a dream -- came to mind decades later. Maybe it was the archi-sweet taste. Anyway, there I was, in Harrods Department Store in London eating marzipan candy shaped like fruit. I think the stuff is laced with heroine; nobody can eat just 50 of them. I also purchased a pair of black socks with "Harrods" emblazoned in white. No mistaking where they came from. Still got ´em.
I espied a group of 20-somethings on the other side of the food section checking me out. Their leader came over.
"Pardon me," he said, "but we couldn´t help notice you are eating so much candy. Won´t it spoil your lunch?"
"This is my lunch," I responded. "Apples, bananas, pears: as everybody knows, fruit is good for you. Moreover, what I happen to be eating is perfectly balanced; it has all the basic food groups: sugar, fat, salt, almond paste and artificial food coloring."
The leader went back to the group where a lively discussion ensued. I think they ran some sort of sociometric test on me and concluded I would be a fun person to get drunk with. The leader came back.
"Instead of feeding your face with sweets, why don´t you come with us to supper at the embassy? We guarantee it will be unforgettable. And, there will be a big surprise."
"An embassy? I have to change clothes."
"Please, whatever you do, don`t. It´s a come-as-you-are affair."
"I hope you are not confusing me with somebody else," I said, squeezing my black socks. "I´m a complete nobody, just a face in the crowd."
"But that´s exactly the point," the leader rejoined. "The event is strictly anonymous.. By the way, we´re celebrating Eloy Alfaro`s birthday."
I checked my coin supply for the underground metro. The leader took note: "The embassy is in walking distance."
A last-second consideration was in order. Are they running a scam? Thieves? Murderers? The group appeared friendly. In fact, all of them had the squeaky clean smiles inundating the final pages of The Da Vinci Code.
I stuffed the coins and black socks in my coat pocket. Off we went.
The leader was right: the embassy was a block away. I watched a dozen caterer vans deliver huge boxes. This is going to be one hell of a party. I, too, smiled a Da Vinci smile.
The diplomatic staff was lined up at the door to greet the guests -- all six hundred of them. I later learned all their citizens living in London had been invited.
We were seated at long/longer/longest tables. Not an inch to spare. I have never seen so many place settings. I assiduously studied my wine glass, finding it fascinating, turning it around and around, hoping an unseen waiter would take the hint. 30 minutes passed. No waiter appeared so I directed my attention to the fancy silverware and beautiful plates with the Ecuadorian flag. Strange. No napkins.
Hours went by; we talked and talked. No food anywhere on the horizon, but nobody seemed to mind. After sundown, the leader walked to the podium, tested the microphone, pronounced the standard preliminaries, then looked at a door behind him.
"And now, we told you we had a big suprise. Here it is! Without further ado -- Julian Assange!"
At that instant all the lights went out. Damn! CIA plot? Scotland Yard shenanigans? Whatever it was, the guests were prepared; hundreds of pen lights, which ushers use in movie theaters, turned on.
I looked out the window. The blackout was confined to the embassy. Under the streetlights, Bobbies in their bumblebee-yellow jackets and Checker Cab-inspired hats were bobbying away.
Incredible. Not a single person complained about the outage or, for that matter, said a word. Amid the silence, I heard the opening of numerous boxes, the rustle of clothes.
I get it! They are going to serve the food, then set it alight. Flaming bananas and so forth. I sat back, waited.
Suddenly, all the lights turned on. What I saw was more astonishing than flaming bananas:
All the guests were now wearing anonymous hacker masks and overcoats. No mistaking where they came from. The leader grabbed the microphone:
"Ladies and gentlemen! Our moment has come! On your marks; get set ... GO!"
All six hundred masked hackers dashed out doors, climbed out windows, ran down streets in every direction. Many leaped into waiting cars, vans, buses.
The 50 bored-to-death Bobbies posted outside the embasssy quickly realized what the deal was. They had seen Julian Assange´s face countless times on wanted posters. A lot of good it did them now. For every anonymous hacker they grabbed and unmasked, 20 got away.
I noticed one hacker was strolling, not running. The Bobbies swarmed around him like flies on a gut truck. They ripped off his mask, tore off his overcoat, shouted with glee. The other Bobbies dropped everything, ran over.
My mouth dropped open. Oh my god! They caught him!
The cops punched him, beat him with night sticks, grabbed his gray hair, pushed and shoved him toward a police van. An older officer broke through the ranks, looked his captive in the eye.
They let him go; no charges. No crime in resembling Julian Assange -- not yet, at any rate.
How many Julian Assange doubles were out there?
The diversion had allowed hundreds of anonymous hackers to escape. The Bobbies madly blew whistles, swung nightsticks, grabbed megaphones and telephones. To no avail ...
As if on cue the floodgates opened. A torrent of anonymous hackers flowed out all buildings, poured into the streets. There were thousands of them everywhere, running, shouting. Pure chaos. And it had only just begun.
I went downtown to see what was happening. You could barely walk; Oxford Street was packed with anonymous hackers, so was Piccadilly Circus where they gathered around the Eros statue. On the metro to my apartment at Earls Court, I was surrounded by them. I overheard a snippet of conversation:
"They`re going to say we´re criminals. We helped him escape."
"Really? How can we commit a crime without knowing that a crime was committed? As far as any of us is concerned, Julian may still be in the embassy."
As I opened my front door, helicopters appeared. Police and army, private companies and organizations, TV and radio stations: you name it, it was up there. Was one of them carrying Julian Assange?
One thing was certain. He disappeared into the night.
One if by land, two if by sea. I later heard Julian hid in one of hundreds of boats docked up and down the English coast and the Thames River, motors running, packed with anonymous hackers. He was whisked away to a ship in international waters, then to Ecuador where he had been granted asylum. Others told me he slipped aboard one of dozens of cargo ships unloading apples, bananas and pears. A neighbor said a Radio France helicopter took him to a Chinese submarine.
Damn! I still don´t know how Julian Assange made it out of England because, just when that information was about to be supplied, I woke up. My black socks sure were warm.