I earn an exceptional living; let’s just leave it at that. I owe it to one basic principle: there’s no such fucking thing as a secret. Secret Coke formula? Horseshit. Sure, there’s an eyes-only folder in some safe in Atlanta, but that formula’s used every day to make millions of bottles and send them all over the world. Any chemist worth his sodium chloride could find the secret formula in one dull afternoon. Secret Original Recipe from KFC? It’s salt, black pepper, and MSG, period. You say “what about eleven herbs and spices!” I say, “When’s the last time you heard that phrase in a commercial?” There may’ve been eleven herbs and spices when the Colonel was still lacing up his string tie, but those days have gone the way of Mother’s Pride.
“Aha,” you say, “but what are they hiding in Area 51?” Hundreds of enlisted men and women pass through that output daily. Someone knows. Is it a spaceship? Someone knows, so it probably isn’t, or they would’ve told more civilians over the years. But this way, when mum’s the word, it appears they know something we don’t. Oh, but what about those creepy numbers stations on shortwave radio? Are they nothing more than international spy networks chattering useless facts at each other? Does Bigfoot shit in the woods? Someone knows.
It may take a while, but eventually secrets get told. That’s ’cause as much fun as it is to keep information private, either yours or someone else’s, it’s even more fun to pass it along. Remember the last time you tallied your number of sexual partners? Man, you thought, that number says more about me than I’d like people to know. It’s either too high or way too low, never Goldilocks comfy. Yet I’ll bet cash money someone else knows your number. Lindsay Lohan wrote hers on a napkin. Now we all know her secret, so she decided something else was her new most important secret, and soon at least some of us will know that secret, too. I buy and tell other people’s secrets for a living, and I work seventy hours a week.
My phone lit up. It was Mackenzie, my hot, inner office assistant. I have two concentric offices, the holy and the most holy, to prevent exactly what was about to occur from occurring. Mackenzie said a man named Loomis had already blown past my sterner, yet still hot, outer office assistant, Raquel, without even stopping to bid her a howdy-do. He’d only been discouraged from steaming through my real office door when Mackenzie threatened to tase him, and I mean she was aiming an actual M-26 military Taser at his face. Best Christmas present I ever got her.
“Who’s Rick Loomis?” I demanded.
“Paparazzo,” she sighed. “We bought his Gomez baby pics, remember?”
“Not really. I mean, the pics, yeah. The photographer, no.”
“And the Elizabeth Warren upskirt!” I heard a smooth baritone voice brag.
“Jesus,” I muttered. “What’s he want?”
“He won’t tell me. Says it’s for him to know and you to find out.”
“Well, tell him I’m rubber and he’s glue. What the fuck? I don’t have time for this.”
“He’s starting to edge toward the Taser.”
“Oh, my God.” I inhaled to tell her to pull the trigger, kick him in the head, and call 911.
“You’re gonna want to see this,” Loomis’ voice said again. “It puts those naked ScarJo selfies to shame.” I considered a minute. I sighed. Buzzed him in.
“What kind of grown adult man calls her ScarJo?” I asked, as he strolled past even me and collapsed in a chair facing my desk. He smelled like trouble and one of those Puff Daddy colognes they keep stuffing into gift bags at industry events.
“Our kind,” he replied without any hint of shame. “Don’t act so high and mighty. I coulda sworn this was the editor’s office at Celeb Sightings magazine. Am I lost? Did I get off on the wrong floor? Are you the editor of Higher Ethics Review now?”
I sat behind my thousand-dollar desk. “Just pitch your wares. Quit wasting my time.”
“I will do exactly that. The pitching, I mean. It’s Gnosis, with a capital-G-n. You know it?”
“I see what you did there.”
“Greek humor. Oo-la-la. Are you familiar with Gnosis or not?”
“The philosophical ideal, or the—?”
“Smartphone app. Enough with the quips.” Of course I was familiar with Gnosis. The Gnosis app was the hottest social medium since Facebook, ’cause it did exactly what Facebook thought it was too good to do: it gave away secrets. Let’s say you’ve got five hundred Facebook friends. Of those five hundred friends, how many do you find attractive? How many datable? Fuckable? Well? How many of your Facebook amigos would you like to see naked? “But oh,” you say primly, “I’m married.” Oh, gimme a break, Sister Christian. Remember, there’s no such thing as a secret. I may not know you cheated on your spouse, but someone does. And whoever that someone is, he or she told somebody else. Don’t think for a second your little hour of indiscretion stayed locked in that Quality Inn. It’s still going. It lives. That’s still you.
The idea behind Gnosis was you could key in your Facebook friends, bam, just like that, and then carefully select who you’d tell your various levels of secrets. Click all the names of the people you’d bang, for example. Then click the names of people you’d admit to wanting to screw if they asked. So maybe now there’s two or three people you’d really like to tangle in the sheets, and some overlap ’cause you want them to know. Well, now if your click matches someone else’s click, guess what? You each get an alert, and it’s off to the Hotel Posturepedic. But that’s not the only secret we think we want to keep. Any nudies on your cell phone? Were you having a great boob day last week, and decided to commemorate it with a post-shower JPEG? Any Anthony Weiners in your iPhone, just waiting to bust out like a snake from a peanut butter jar? You’re not gonna keep those to yourself. Let’s get serious here. You took those photos ’cause you want to show those photos to someone—maybe not everyone, but someone. And Gnosis knows who that person is. It knows because you told it. All he or she has to do is ask. It’s like Snapchat, but for everything: every secret you ever wanted to show and tell, together with the names of the folks you want to tell those secrets, all locked away behind a dark, thorny hedge maze of encryption so dire and labyrinthine no hacker had ever been able to make it through the first password server.
Until, Loomis told me, today.
“I made a deal with this kid from Caltech. He’s got an IQ of, like, genius times Einstein. Worked it out in less time than it’d take you or me to finish one o’ them, whaddya call it, Sudoku puzzles.” He, being no genius times Einstein, pronounced it Sadookoo.
“You’re a sack fulla shit,” I decided. “You’re talking Pentagon-level encryption here. No zit-faced freshman is ever gonna—”
“Edward Snowden,” Loomis announced, grinning smugly. “So how’s that encryption working out for the Pentagon, dude? Besides, I told you I had something to show you.” He handed me a folder. Inside was—well, if I said the name of the gentleman involved, you’d recognize it immediately. He’s one of the highest-paid stars of one of the highest-rated shows on TV. He’s considered a reputable guy. And in this folder were pictures…and names…and more pictures…of body parts…personal email addresses…half a dozen passwords…bank transactions…drug pushers…conquests…defeats. Everything a growing tabloid publisher needs.
“That’s just one name,” Loomis purred. “You know how many stars have Gnosis accounts? Or politicians? Jesus jumping Christ. I could ruin every senator and representative in America. I know the president’s Facebook password. I’ve seen pictures of her cooch. Lemme tell ya, it’d keep you awake nights, and not in a good way. What I’m offering is a full Gnosis hack. To sell, not to give. You can look up anybody you want. Fill your printers full of ink, papi chulo, ’cause you’re gonna need it. Both you and Celeb Sightings will be the envy of TMZ for years to come. Now, do I have your full attention?”
I was staring, open-mouthed, at the TV star’s folder. I was looking at a POV photo of a young woman’s ass as he railed her from behind. I was pretty sure I recognized her, cross-indexed her name with a record of Gnosis private chats. Sure enough, I was looking at the most legendary virgin in country music, a woman with an image so pure you could use it to scrub baby bottles. And here she was on all fours, grimacing lustfully over her shoulder at a family man two decades her senior. Ye gods.
“I guess you’ve talked to other parties,” I said.
“Not just yet,” Loomis answered, inspecting his nails. “I like it here. This office, I mean. It’s nice, y’know, the décor? Beauty-ful. You can clearly afford the finer luxuries in life. I respect that. I respect a deep pocket, y’know what I’m sayin’?”
“I can let you have the whole thing for twelve million, firm.”
I laughed, but only with my mouth. I was expecting fifteen. “Get the fuck outta here,” I exploded. “No one pays twelve million bucks for a photo.”
“You paid four million for the Gomez kid, and I let you off easy with that ’cause I was feeling generous that day. The Jolie-Pitt photos got over four million. I know what you’ll pay for a fuckin’ picture, but this ain’t no picture. This is every picture. Twelve million. I’m splitting it eight-four with that kid from Caltech. He’s using it to buy, I don’t know, Caltech. I didn’t ask. The point is, you can afford it,’cause you’ll have material to keep you in print on your local newsstand when Us and People Weekly have gone the way of Newsweek and Life. Am I crazy? I think not.”
“Still, twelve million’s a bundle. It’s not like we keep that kinda money in a drawer.”
“You have numbers to call. Now, who’s wasting whose time with this shit?”
I sat back and thought it over. I was tempted, of course. But a serious question gave me pause. Was I on the verge of crossing a line I could never uncross? Were some secrets meant to stay secret? If I let all this sleaziness loose in the world, I was no better a guy than the lowest rat fink in the street. I’d occupy a moral par with mosquitos and vampires, a ghoul. I’d be lower than Loomis. At least he was holding fast to his exorbitant price.
“I can’t do this,” I breathed. “I just can’t. Maybe this is right for TMZ. Hell, maybe it’s the right thing for us, low as we are. I’m probably an idiot for not pouncing on it when I can. But I keep thinking, how many people would this hurt? I mean, you get right down to it, the stuff in this folder is none of my business. Same goes for everything on Gnosis, ’cause those people never clicked my name. Rightly so. They don’t trust me. They shouldn’t. I wouldn’t trust me, either. The only reason I can even look myself in the mirror each morning is I do have a line. And this smokes it. I’m sorry. I know I’m gonna kick myself tomorrow, but for now, I gotta give you a firm ‘thanks, but no, thanks, and have a nice day.’ Let me show you to the door.”
He regarded me, stunned, and took his hack to Flynt Publications for fourteen.
I’m kidding, of course. I talked the fucker down to ten and a half, then deleted my own Gnosis account before he could make it to the elevator.
Christian Carvajal is the author of Lightfall, a 2009 novel released by Fear Nought Publishing, and he’s currently shopping a new novel with the working title Mr. Klein’s Wild Ride. His work has been published in Cinefex and Literary Cavalcade, and he’s a regular theatre critic and feature writer for the Weekly Volcano. His short story “A Boy and His God” earned him honorable mention in the international Writers of the Future Contest. “Carv’s Thinky Blog” is at ChristianCarvajal.com, along with purchase information for his nonfiction e-book, Rereading the Bible: Agnostic Insights Into Genesis, the Gospels, and Revelation. Veritas!