I opened the door to the seedy bar and took a step inside.  Immediately I smelt stale beer, cigarette smoke, and the tart smell of years old pickled eggs.  The bar was as dark as the portico to Hel and was cool as a tomb.  As my eyes adjusted, I saw this establishment was narrow and deep with a dark, almost ebony, bar to my left and a series of high-backed booths with cracked red pleather seats and pale lights shining weakly onto the table tops. As my instructions directed, I walked along the bar until I arrived at a server’s station and asked the bar tender for a “Large Red White & Blue”.  She was a tall red head resembling Katey Sagal who just put a beer in front of me saying, “It’s Old Milwaukee. Two bucks.”   As I paid with a Jefferson bill she looked at the bill, looked at me again, smirked and with cold eyes said, “Second booth from the end.”

I took my already warm beer and made my way back to the booth. As I approached, I noticed a poster of Chuck Bednarik standing over Frank Gifford taped to the wall.  There he sat.  The man who I hoped could provide some answers.  He was everything the “CIA Ad lady” was not.  He was completely forgettable.  Blah looks, meh clothing, nothing stood out about him.  He greeted me with “Sit down.” I attempted to slide into the booth, but the cracked and sticky surface made that difficult.  I silently reminded myself to burn these pants after I was done with this meeting.

“A person I know said I should talk to you about a subject we both have an interest in.”, he quietly stated to me.  I couldn’t identify the accent, wait, yes, I could.  He sounded like the PA system in major airports.  He had no discernable accent.  I stammered, “How are you today?  Thanks for meeting with me.”  He faintly scowled, “Quit the bullshit.  You don’t give a fuck about my day. Either ask me what you want to know, or this discussion is over.”  I swallowed and tried again.  “A friend of mine is in danger of losing their job because of a couple of comments on a website. Do they stand a chance of keeping their job?”

He picked up his beer and brought it to his lips. Thinking the better of it, he placed it back on the table without taking a sip.  “Let me guess. They have a security clearance and the comments weren’t exactly “supportive” of the current administration?”  “Correct.”, I replied looking down at “the Beast” in my glass.  “Well then they are gone. Even the press is reporting how the Pentagon is “thinking” about monitoring social media, and how the army is going after a chaplain because they didn’t want to perform a wedding for gay soldiers.  When the media is saying “thinking about” you damn can well count on the program is both ongoing and wider than reported.”  I started to say, “What about the…..” and he cut me off.  “The first amendment doesn’t apply the courts will rule.  It is a private business making a business decision.  The courts will not rule that any company is cancelling people on behalf of the government because to do so will validate the complaints made by some about fascism.  Facebook, Twitter, the NYT, the employer of your friend, are all free to do what they want.”

I sat there and tried once more. “But they didn’t post the comments during work hours or from a company owned machine.  At worse they occasionally viewed the website with a company machine, but never commented.”  He looked at me with some pity, “You really are slow, aren’t you?  That right there gave the programs all they needed to connect your friend with the website.  From there it is easy to link their off hours comments.  I mean unless your friend was using VPN, a burner computer, a different location and never commented. Did they do all that?”  I stared at my glass, “I don’t think so.  So, they could lose their job huh?”   “Count on it.  Look, it is a new woke America. The powers that be can do things the Stasi, KGB or Gestapo never dreamed of.  Artificial intelligence combined with a hard left media and social media environment pressuring companies means that we all exist on borrowed time if we connect to the internet at all. We all will be cancelled someday. Even you.”

The funk of the bar was getting to me.  “Well thank you for your time.  I had better go.”  He looked at me with some pity.  “Sorry to have to give you the harsh reality.  What site was your friend looking and commenting at?  If you want to tell me, I can use that information.  QAnon?  Alex Jones?  PJ Media?”  I looked at his eyes and said, “It’s okay.  I can share that information.  It is a small site called Gliber…..”  His eyes immediately turned as harsh as MD20/20 left opened in the sun for a week.  “Those sick bastards who advocate for putting pineapple on deep dish? Just leave now. “

I worked my way out of the seat and started for the door.  Midway there the bartender said to me, “Go play some disk golf you sicko.” and laughed.  I saw a sliver of light hit the front door from behind me.  Turning around I saw a rear door closing and that the booth was empty.  The bartender continued to laugh as I opened the door and stepped onto the sunny sidewalk.

I never saw the bicycle that hit me.