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Balkan Subversives' Lives Endangered by Conspiracy

Column by Anders Hove
Opinion Editor

A week had passed since my strange arrest by the International Fraternity Protection Force. I had gone about my daily business, and made no efforts to bring my case to a positive conclusion. Indeed, I really had no information about my case at all, other than that the charges related somehow to the vague attempts at satire I publish from time to time. It was high time I stopped by for another visit at the Balkan Subversive and Revolutionary Bookstore.

Usually the bookstore is deserted, save for the proprietor, Radovan Icic. Today, however, I perceived three shadows through the store's hazy, soot-filled atmosphere. They were accompanied by creaky, severe voices. "Hove!" cried one, "Come, we were just discussing your case."

I stepped past the heaps of dusty books and stood next to the figures, adjusting my eyes to the dark. Slowly I began to make out their craggy, wrinkled physiognomies. One of the sootier ones I recognized as Radovan, but the others?

"Allow me to introduce my brothers, Milovan and Ratko," said Radovan, gesturing toward the two. Milovan appeared to be about 90 years old; his shock of white hair and greyish beard nearly covered his face. Ratko looked somewhat younger; his long, reddish whiskers and pink lips stood in sharp contrast to the figures of his pale siblings.

"Yes, Mister Hove," blurted Ratko, excitedly. "We're anxious to look into this further. I got a tip earlier today that the members of a fraternity have some information that might redound to your benefit."

"What is this fraternity and how do they relate to my case?" I asked.

"They call themselves `Xi Xi Xi,'" grunted Milovan. "They have close relations to the International Fraternity Protection Force, and its leader, Neal D____. You must talk with them immediately. Radovan will go with you; we'll remain here, in contact with the underground." Ratko tapped a manhole cover with his foot knowingly.

And so my friend Rado and I found ourselves in the entrance to the Xi Xi Xi chapter of Sigma Omicron Beta. I noticed a bulletin board by the door where some notices had been posted. Looking at the topmost one, I recognized my name, yet the rest was scrawled in some bizarre, runic script.

"Wait here while I case the joint," grunted Radovan. I watched his elderly, crooked form disappear into a nearby room.

I was now alone in the lobby. From somewhere I could here vague, shrieking sounds. They seemed to be coming from behind a closet door to my immediate left. What could anyone be doing in there? I stared dumbly at the doorknob -- the shrieking seemed to be getting louder and more terrified. Were there two voices or one? The presence of abject terror seemed to be poisoning the air around me; I felt faint and dizzy. My hand groped for the closet door, gripped it, and pulled.

Three men stood before me, two with their shirts off, the other wearing some sort of leather assembly and hood. The leather man held a bullwhip in the firm grip of his right hand, drawn back over his head, poised to strike again. One of the other two men spoke: "Mister Hove, thank goodness you've come. He is whipping us; you can make him stop! Tell him we did nothing. Tell him!"

I recognized the man as Tuck, one of the two who had arrested me last week. Why was the man whipping him, and what did it have to do with me?

Tuck's partner, Nipp, now spoke, "Neal D____ read your column, and now he's punishing us for eating your food. Please tell this man we did nothing wrong -- that we didn't eat your breakfast!"

"Don't be deceived," said the whipper. "This are just some new pledges. We do this every year." The whip cracked, and stripes of red appeared on Tuck's back.

My head was spinning; the gruesome scene made me even more nauseous. I staggered to the door, then closed it behind me.

Radovan emerged from a hall to my right; his face full of dejection. "No luck," said he. "The place appears to be deserted."

"Can you make anything of this?" I said, handing him the notice I found on the wall earlier. "It's all Greek to me."

"Ancient Finnish, rather. It seems to say the entire group has headed over to your place to prevent you from writing any more of these `conspiracy' columns. By force, if necessary. We should probably be out of here before they get back."

As he spoke, I saw the dim flicker of a thousand torches through a nearby window. "Out the back, quick!" Radovan and I slammed against the door, then tumbled into the street. Desperate, I ran blindly through the empty streets, yet somehow we ended up back at the bookstore entrance. Milovan and Ratko were there waiting for us.

"We heard about the mob. These people have gone mad," said Ratko, shaking his head.

"I don't understand. Don't they realize this is just satire?" I said, still puffing from the run.

"Hove, don't be nave. Tonight we have only seen the wispy, outer festoons that shroud this vast conspiracy. We will be in touch."

With a twitch of his contorted facial features, he turned and disappeared into the bookstore, followed by his grimmer, older brothers. It was so dark now I could no longer even make out the door to the place, and had to feel my way back up to the street. I couldn't help reflecting on the day's events: MIT is apparently a lot stranger than any of us ever imagined.