A gat in the hand means the world by the tail


THE film rights to this Chris Andrews Twitter story have probably already been sold. It’s got everything – a powerful political family, a sting, a love interest (well, a wife, but we can rewrite that), an unexpected twist and, best of all, lots of Pelican Briefy close-ups of someone at a computer screen going tap-tap-tap-frown-tap-tap-tap, without which no thriller is complete.

Andrews was exposed as the anonymous tweeter @brianformerff, who posted some 300 tweets critical of his own party. That wasn’t where he went wrong, though. After all, you can’t throw a stone nowadays without hitting a critic of Fianna Fáil, which is why stone-throwing has gone so much out of favour. No, he was exposed because @brianformerff reportedly made derogatory remarks about the wife of a man who turned out – imagine that – to be a keen amateur detective.

I say Steve Buscemi for the character of the mysterious gumshoe who rumbled Andrews after hunting him down for months. Admittedly, Buscemi is no Humphrey Bogart, but then no one is any more; that’s what’s wrong with the world today.

Here’s a brief reminder of what he did – if this fantastic story is to be believed, at least. Having suspected for some time that Andrews was responsible for the antagonistic Twitter character, he collected every tweet issued from that account. He then deduced – using powers that you would not understand, Watson – that they had all come from a computer, rather than a mobile phone, for example.

This is where it starts to get even more weirdly obsessive. He set up his own web redirection server, so that if his prey clicked a given link, it would reveal the computer’s IP address. It turned out to be an internet café in Rathmines – not the most promising setting from a cinematography point of view, I’ll grant you, but we can change it in the final script.

The last stage of his plan involved covert photography and video surveillance of Chris Andrews tap-tap-tapping in the café, and it’s at this point, I think, that we’re going to have to give our private dick a little more flesh.

Let’s make him wear a fedora, so that we can enjoy the rare opportunity of quoting Sam Spade: “Say, what’s on your mind, besides your hat?” Throw in an unfiltered cigarette, together with the consequent hacking (forgive the techie pun) cough, and a certain fragrance, from spending all night in his car on Rathmines Road, piddling into a bottle. Let’s add a dog, as well – a Jack Russell – sitting in the passenger seat, panting, staring, understanding.

At the front desk of the internet café in Rathmines is one of Dashiell Hammett’s lanky brunettes with a wicked jaw. She is chewing gum and whistling some popular number.

“You do know how to whistle, don’t you?” she challenges him. “You just put your lips together and blow.” She knows that’s not a quote from a Dashiell Hammett story but heck, we live in an untidy age. If DJs can call themselves musicians, then shop girls can surely mash up their literary references for art’s sake.

“I’m not here to whistle,” he says, charmlessly. “I’m here to secretly spy on the other patrons.” And when he splits an infinitive, God damn it, it stays split. And when he sets his sights on a disgruntled Fianna Fáiler, God damn it, he gets his man.

If the man would go to these lengths because someone belonging to him was insulted on social media, where insults fly about like a drunk’s spittle, then what other immense feats of vengeance is he capable of? It’s practically Shakespearian (setting up a redirection server to track someone’s IP address being the modern equivalent of pouring hemlock in their ear).

Pity the children who make the mistake of ringing his doorbell and running away. They open their Spongebob Squarepants lunchboxes the next day to find scrawled notes clipped from newspapers saying, ‘i kNow wot u Did’.

What if you pranged his car in a car park and drove off without leaving a note? You’d end up with two or three of those flying camera drones circling your patio.

“What are those, darling?”

“Beats me. They’re probably something to do with the barbecue. I told you you should read the instructions on the barbecue.”

It just goes to show what you can achieve if you have enough time, energy and money to indulge your crazy. You can despatch a device to see what Mars looks like up close; you can establish Wikileaks; you can uncover which member of a Fianna Fail dynasty is peevishly dissing his former associates; you can even put together a film script exploiting every detective cliché you know.

 Published in the Irish Mail on Sunday, 19th August 2012

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