Bracken: Professor Raoul X
It was late June and I was sitting in a café seven hundred miles from home, doing a little web surfing. There was plenty of room at mid-morning, so I could sit at the end of the coffee bar with my laptop. I was scanning the breaking news about the new mass-shooting. Like most people I was morbidly fascinated with the deranged young man who was the killer. That is, the trigger puller. But I was looking over his shoulder for something else: signs of a guiding hand.
Why? Because I know something about the subject.
You see, being a guiding hand is my life’s avocation. My secret avocation, that is. Outwardly I’m a tenured professor of sociology at a Mid-western university. A life-long bachelor, so my summers are my own. Ostensibly for writing, research, quiet reflection, bungee jumping or what have you. My summer hobby is traveling and meeting interesting people. Everything I do on these road trips can be explained under the rubric of field research, but even so I pay with cash and move like a ghost. I’m old school. It’s a harmless quirk. Nobody cares.
I suppose if you polled my students, they’d declare me to be left wing, but not a rhetorical bomb-thrower. Am I closer to Karl Marx than to Ayn Rand? Well, naturally. Progressive politics were part of my upbringing and education. And of course that is also the best way to get along in academia, and I do like to get along.
No question my academic career has been lackluster. That does not concern me. I have no wife or significant other to be concerned with my apparent lack of greater ambition or wealth. Seeking publication for papers that a few academic gnomes might eventually peruse does not interest me in the least. Writing some groundbreaking tome that will be reviewed in the New York Times and read by millions is not a realistic aspiration. I am no Jared Diamond in the rough. I won academic tenure, and that was enough. I have a house and a ten-year-old Beamer. I enjoy my little comforts. A small circle of friends, none close. I’d be the first to admit it’s been a mediocre life—outwardly.
But my secret life has been anything but mediocre. I have engineered extraordinary events, but truth be told, there is little joy in secret celebration. So I am creating this document, properly encoded and hidden, to save for posterity. When my unsurpassed run is finally over, due either to my natural demise or other more precipitous causes, my secret history will conjure itself from millions of computer screens unfiltered, unspun and uncut. The truth will be known. This is my story, and no one can take it from me. My name will ring down through the ages, when my complete story is told!
But not yet. There is more secret work to be done.
I did not drive seven hundred miles to ponder my life’s ledger and tap on a keyboard. What interested me was the creature standing on the other side of the white coffee shop counter. The gaunt, long-haired young man by the espresso machine could have been taken for a college student in a college town. Really not too bad looking in person. Pushing six feet, skinny. Gray-blue eyes, a little too closely set. Decent complexion for his age. Maybe a few days since his mouse-colored hair had been washed or properly brushed, but overall he was quite presentable. Duncan it said on his plastic name tag. I already knew that his last name was McClaren. I wasn’t in this picturesque college town by accident. I was here to meet him, but he didn’t know this.
Duncan McClaren was one of the most promising prospects I’d run down in years. My own students unknowingly provide me with many of my leads. We have free-ranging discussions, in and out of the classroom setting. From practice I know how to guide them toward a discussion of the weirdest people they’ve ever known. Duncan went to high school with one of my female students. His first name was mentioned casually by the student, tossed off her lips and promptly forgotten. Duncan sometimes heard voices, she said. Talked to himself. And he could not stop talking about whatever obsessed him at the moment. He cut right into conversations among people he hardly knew, and went off onto bizzaro-world tangents. And what really set him off was the country’s most famous talk radio host.
Following that disclosure I did my own internet research. There was only one Duncan listed in her year at her high school. As a professor, I stay on the cutting edge of internet trickery. A critical part of my secret avocation involves doing internet research without leaving digital fingerprints. My students constantly come up with what they believe to be new ways to cheat or plagiarize without detection, so I’ve become somewhat of an expert at internet security. I do not take risks. I’m a very careful person. Typing this secret history and hiding it inside my computer is perhaps the biggest risk I’ve taken.
In the course of my background investigation I learned that he had been expelled or otherwise ejected from high school numerous times. He’d been arrested and he’d been to juvenile boot camp. There were a number of sealed records and denied files, both medical and legal. But reading between the lines of what I could access, it was a safe guess that there had been serious drug use and there had been family violence. Rumors of arson at a very young age. His family had money and pull, and he was accepted for admission to an out-of-state institution of higher learning. His brief transcript was telling. His GPA for three completed semesters was made up equally of As and Fs. He had not finished his second year. No reason was given.
Since dropping out of college Duncan had been adrift for a year, hitchhiking around the country, supporting himself mostly as a dish washer or at other menial short-term jobs involving limited social interaction. On his own walkabout journey of self-discovery, to give him the benefit of the doubt. He was for the moment a barista in this New England college town, and I arranged for our paths to cross.
It’s always an intense moment, my first close look at a subject I’ve known only as an internet phantom. Duncan came over to take my order: regular coffee, with cream and sugar. When he filled my cup I laid a few dollars on the counter.
Duncan tapped the bills and said matter-of-factly, “So, somebody still believes in paper money.”
I looked directly at him and replied, “For some things, yes. Like paying for coffee.”
He returned my gaze, his eyes narrowed to slits and he said, “Smart. Fly under the radar. Render unto Caesar—while you can. But it’s all just a matter of time. Just a matter of time.” He slowly nodded his head, as if agreeing with himself.
To release his floodgates all I had to ask him was, “What do you mean?” Then I listened attentively to a five minute diatribe covering many tediously familiar theories and a few original ones. A thirtyish female with a severe hairstyle, whom I guessed was the café’s manager, edged over and tried to redirect my waiter. “Dunc,” she said breezily, “You’re not bothering this man, are you? No more talking about that bank stuff, right?”
Holding the full pot of hot coffee he slowly turned his entire body and fixed an icy glare upon her, but said nothing. He held his stare, boring into her with flat eyes. His arm seemed tensed to hurl the burning-hot brew at her. Her smile wilted, she turned and walked away. “She doesn’t understand,” said Duncan when she was gone. “Her mind is closed to the reality around her.”
“Does that bother you?” I asked him.
“I’m used to it. Ninety percent of humanity is closed off to reality.”
I laughed and said, “I think you’re giving humanity too much credit.”
He smiled in a peculiar way. One side of his mouth went up markedly while the other side remained nearly flat. “Yeah. Probably. Look, I have to serve some other humanity or I’m going to get canned. I’m on thin ice around here.”
Twenty-year-old Duncan, who had a post-graduate’s demeanor and a startlingly high IQ, had never held a job for longer than a month. He could operate independently in society as a functioning adult in most situations. He could shop for himself and drive a car. He’d briefly kept an apartment in college. But he could not hold a conversation without promptly veering into the Bush-family CIA dynasty, the truth about 9-11, the Jewish bankers, right-wing talk radio and God help me, the Queen of England.
Duncan was a bug. A raving lunatic. Yet in his outward appearance and mannerisms, he was as normal as you and I. But what does one’s outward appearance signify? The faces we show to the world are mere avatars, are they not? Who truly knows our inner hearts, our souls if you will? No one. Certainly not a God who doesn’t exist. So am I normal? Define normal. A sophomoric tautology. Yes, outwardly I can easily pass as normal, and I have for most of my forty-seven years. But inside? Honestly, what a question. Who wants to be no more than a random semi-conscious insect in a hive of billions?
Not me. No, I’m not normal, and have no desire to be.
Normal means average, and let me assure you, I’m way above average. Average people don’t make it their life’s work to ferret out certain types of borderline personalities and convert them into useful tools. As far as I know, I’m the only human toolmaker of my kind. No semi-sentient insect brain resides within my skull, making me a slave to laws, traditions or norms of so-called acceptable behavior. I operate outside of the rules of the hive, and I enjoy a freedom mere insects can never know. So what, you say? I’ll say what. By my actions I have personally changed the course of history, and I will do so again.
Can you say the same thing? What “normal” hive insect can claim to have done that?
Have there been others like me? I tend to think so, but it’s an area of pure conjecture. A familiar example. Most Americans dismissed the story of James Earl Ray’s mysterious helper, known only to him as “Raoul,” as a self-serving fantasy. I always thought that Raoul was more flesh than fantasy. James Earl Ray’s actions and travels before and after Memphis make me believe that he had assistance of the kind that I have given to some very special people.
If you take a 'Parallax View' of history, you might allow the possibility that rogue government agencies or other cliques could also be grooming likely candidates, but I tend not to believe in elaborate conspiracies. Could it happen? I suppose. But in my experience, no conspiracy involving a large cast of characters can remain a secret for many years.
On the other hand, the temporary private relationship between a mentor and a singular student, that relationship can indeed be kept a secret. My writing this secret history in freedom instead of in captivity proves that this is so. And even if one of my human tools is someday arrested alive, his mad barkings will be disregarded. His minor side-story of a mysterious helper, if heard at all, will be disregarded as just another in his cornucopia of delusions.
Converting a certain type of lunatic into a useful tool is not too difficult when you understand the dynamics that are in play. Practice makes perfect, and I’ve had a lot of practice. Good candidates for a direct action mission are often quite intelligent, at least as measured on certain scales. They can navigate by themselves between cities, and arrive at a place and time without causing alarm to the general population.
But in my experience the best candidates for a guiding hand are not true “loners.” They often seek friendship and employment, and they may even succeed for a while. But the men who interest me invariably sabotage their social relationships by compulsively discussing their paranoid obsessions. Each human rejection adds heat to their simmering rage. Yet still they crave human companionship, and simple affirmation of their delusional belief systems. This makes them soft putty at my touch. These men, deftly guided, become my arrows. To the world, these arrows seem to plunge at random from the clear blue sky. Sometimes they do, but not always!
It’s not hard to convert a lump of inchoate anger into an arrow. At first all I do is offer them a receptive ear, and confirmation that they are not alone in their beliefs. Our dialogues lead me toward the best approach to take. I adapt my temporary cover story to fit my current subject’s preexisting delusional views. In the past I’ve pretended to be a liaison from the CIA, from Mossad, from Al Qaeda. I’ve posed as a former leading member of the Trilateral Commission, now working against their globalist designs. Sometimes I’ve convinced them that their medications are part of a conspiracy to chemically lobotomize them, robbing them of their most brilliant insights.
After a few private conversations I eventually steer the subject to “doing something really important.” Hypothetically, of course. At least at first. Then we play a conversational game of, “If I could, I would.” A good prospect will soon be describing the precise medieval tortures, punishments and execution methods merited by his worst enemies. Once I have tapped into his personal fantasy realm of gory revenge, it’s “game on,” as they say in the vernacular.
At that point it really doesn’t matter to me who or what is the focus of the subject’s hate, or what group he blames for his own shortcomings or for the ills of the world. Left, right, capitalism, socialism, religion, nationalism…in truth I stopped caring very much about them long ago. When an action will advance the cause of social justice that’s great, but generalized mayhem is also a worthy end in itself. “The worse, the better,” in Lenin’s words. Create the pre-revolutionary conditions. Some days I still half believe the old dogma. But at least I’m not just another insect in the hive.
I slid my empty cup away, and awaited the return of my barista. In a minute I’d be commiserating with him, discovering that we were practically soulmates, rare men of true vision. Posing as an out-of-town business visitor, I’d ask him the best place in the area to eat. It would turn out that he and I shared similar culinary and beverage tastes, fancy that! And I’d gladly spring for lunch or dinner if he’d agree to be my local guide. Then we’d discuss further his hatred for the Jewish bankers who run the world, and the right-wing talk radio hosts who are their willing accomplices and mouthpieces. At least, in the world according to Duncan McClaren.
Right-wing talk radio was very much on my mind, because one of the icons of that loathsome industry was going to be passing through the region two weeks hence. Ben Rafferty wasn’t the king of right-wing hate radio, but he was one of the rising princes, nearly up there with the big three. Currently he was on a national book tour, promoting his latest toxic spill of racist hate-speech. Oh happy day, his entire schedule, with bookstore locations, dates and times, was available online.
I’d discovered some other useful information in an interview Rafferty had given to a pro-gun blog. The talk host traveled without an armed bodyguard, due to the vagaries of conflicting state gun laws. This was particularly a problem when flying into New York or New Jersey. It was just too damn hard to stay in compliance with a thousand local gun laws that could cause you to be imprisoned over a technical firearms violation. So instead of an armed bodyguard, he had some kind of karate guy for protection. An ex-soldier who had been wounded in one of America’s wars of imperialism. Poor Ben Rafferty, who never saw an assault rifle he didn’t want to French kiss, couldn’t have a gun during his East Coast book tour. Beautiful.
The imminent proximity of Duncan McClaren and Ben Rafferty had brought me seven hundred miles to this coffee shop. With a little stroking and massaging of Duncan’s twisted and deformed ego, I hoped to convince him that his empty life could at long last have genuine meaning. He could make a real difference! He could change the world! He could accomplish something important, and be remembered forever. I already had an untraceable pistol to provide him, if he proved receptive to my guiding hand. Oh, the mayhem potential, when one of the leading right-wing haters is finally knocked off! Mayhem-fest, indeed. Mayhem squared. Mayhem cubed!
Radio talker Ben Rafferty meant nothing to me, but he had millions of rabid right-wing followers who clung to his every screech and scream for three hours a day. After Duncan McClaren approached the book-signing table, pulled out his pistol and gave his miserable life meaning, Rafferty’s fans would rise en masse in blind rage. And a few of his most rabid fans, feeding their own dark fantasies, would predictably strike out in violent reprisal against progressive leaders. Secondary explosions, if you will. A chain reaction, possibly my greatest work ever.
Duncan returned to my end of the bar when he saw my empty cup. While he poured my refill I quietly said, “You know, you’re right about those Jewish bankers and how they control talk radio. They’re all in New York, right? I mean, most people have no idea what’s going on around them.”
His eyes widened and a half-smile formed on his lips. He set the coffee pot down and leaned on the counter until his nose was a foot from mine. One eyebrow raised in expectation above the high side of his demented grin. He glanced back down the counter to see who was in earshot and then said, “You know about the Illuminati, right?”
Did I ever.
This plan might actually work. I’d know better after a long conversation with Duncan McClaren in a dark restaurant. Duncan might be my masterpiece, the one to light the fuse of Civil War Two. And if he does, eventually I want the world to know who handed him the matches, the gun and Ben Rafferty’s book-signing schedule.
But for now just call me Professor Raoul X, a guiding hand of history.
Fiction by Matthew Bracken, author of the Enemies Foreign And Domestic trilogy and the upcoming Castigo Cay.