The investigation concluded that such a misstep could only occur due to a bizarre combination of factors.
Firstly, it originated with one Ted Brine, who tried a new way to favourably influence the outcome of his matrimonial difficulties.
The aforementioned Mr. Brine, an aspiring socialite, worked at that time for the magazine in question as an unpaid intern essentially occupying a position of junior Content Specialist. In this capacity, he showed considerable skills and a very positive attitude, and was about to be promoted to the same position on a temporary basis with a trial period of thirty weeks.
His familial income at that moment hardly exceeded $2300 per year, all earned by his wife who, three months prior to the incident, started working as a part-time Customer Experience Enhancement Consultant at a local candle boutique. The rest of their annual income — $750 — was provided by their family members on a sorely irregular basis, mostly by Mr. Brine’s younger brother who works as a hedge fund manager.
As a result, the Brine couple was compelled to live outside their means. They occupied a relatively expensive accommodation – a single space studio converted from a former basement storage room, with a kitchenette corner and a shower box installed within the premises, and a toilet equipped with an electric motor pump, the operational costs of which substantially increased their utilities bill. At first, they had shared this apartment, without contributing to the rental pool in any significant way. They split this arrangement with two other couples who, after they understood that Mr. and Mrs. Brine weren’t to shoulder any tenancy expenses whatsoever, just packed up their things one day and left the property without any warning. For two months, the Brines had celebrated their solitary habitation; they made their partnership commitments official and entered into a lawful marriage. Soon, they were facing eviction.
There was nothing surprising about this development considering that Mr. and Mrs. Brine would frequent upscale places where the price for scallops with horseradish polenta, watercress purée and emulsified leeks could reach an equivalent of a monthly salary paid to an average assembly worker at a smartphone factory in Vietnam. They wore designer clothes, purchased illegally from Mrs. Brine’s maternal uncle who accessed (usually counterfeit) luxury items through his vast connections in the criminal underworld. They had enrolled in at least three allegedly exclusive online clubs targeted at status-oriented millennials, which advertised such social perks as dedicated concierges, personal shoppers, and free access to celebrities and high-class events such as all Big Four Fashion Weeks, Agent Provocateur’s underwear shows, haute cuisine restaurant openings, top sports games, and private members-only concerts and festivals. They subscribed to eight lifestyle magazines.
Living such an extravagant life, the Brine family inevitably amassed a considerable debt, recycling all seven of their credit cards on a regular basis. Mr. Brine’s wife, Tanya, three years his junior, was rumoured to contemplate an affair with her singing coach. This alone could bring her newlywed husband to the point of turning towards most desperate actions.
One such action was the incident under consideration, which Ted Brine intended as a birthday present to his wife who — as he was thoroughly convinced at the moment — was on the verge of filing for divorce just three months after their wedding. This present was meant to indicate that, in the near future, the couple could enjoy unprecedented wealth and be as immensely rich as any other person on the list.
According to his own testimony, Mr. Brine put his wife’s name on the list as a birthday present for her after she had related to him an article about a Russian phosphate manufacturer Mr. Tikhon Breev. She’d read about Mr. Breev in a magazine while waiting for a wisdom tooth extraction (and later kept expanding on the aforementioned detail at every opportunity.) The article described Mr. Breev as an avid art collector, philanthropist, and enthusiast of cryopreservation; his wife was a spiritual guru, and their daughter an Instagram influencer and a cosmopolitan trendsetter with alluring and generous personality.
According to Mr. Brine, his wife showed so much affection for these people, and in such an unrestrained manner, that, after two weeks of discussing the origins of Mr. Breev’s fortunes and the ways of obtaining comparable wealth and “taking their lives to the next level”, as gleaned from the popular biographies of many other rich people, Mr. Brine came to see the magnate as his personal nemesis.
Trying to satisfy their acute mutual urge for immediate and conspicuous prosperity, Mr. Brine quit his job as data input technician at a facial recognition software company. He asked his friend from college Mr. Alit Arabian to employ him in any capacity at a start-up developing headhunting application targeted at celebrities, which Mr. Arabian hoped to finance through crowdfunding. To promote his start-up, Mr. Arabian made a demonstration: Mr. Brine, trying to secure a position of personal identity consultant with his mother-in-law, an A-list user experience designer. Due to a glitch in the software, Mr. Brine ended up first a masseur at a Thai spa, and then a Twitter response enhancer. From there, in just two months, he progressed to his most recent job at the magazine.
Unfortunately, none of those occupations entailed any significant monetary remuneration, and meanwhile, the situation at the Brine residence deteriorated. Their electricity supply was disconnected. To hide this misadventure from his wife, Mr. Brine furtively connected through the ceiling and the wall a power outlet serving a wending machine in a barbershop above their unit with an industrial grade 12-way power distribution rack, entirely without knowledge of Mrs. Brine, who went to her mother;s place for the weekend. While doing this, Mr. Brine accidentally short-circuited a power line with his pliers. According to his testimony, the resulting arc, sparks, blast, droplets of molten steel from his tool, and the general shock all contributed to his decision to proceed with his plan without any further delay. In his own words, “this whole [redacted] idea fully formed in front of my eyes like a [redacted] tornado in a slow-motion animated film scene” the very moment Mr. Brine was blinded by the flash.
To set his scheme in motion, Mr.. Brine embarked on building a vast net of connections through the entire magazine staff. Some key people he managed to surreptitiously influence were a senior content communicator from the quiz department Mr. Stephen Avraamides, and the assistant editor Ms Linda Mitchell. To secure Ms Mitchell’s cooperation, Mr. Brine pretended to fall in love with her. He consciously took full advantage of the situation Ms Mitchell was rumoured to find herself in, namely that of an unmarried woman in her late forties (and, quite possibly, a virgin as opined by one Mr. Quill, an assistant photo editor). She lacked viable prospects of finding a decent partner in life (as opined by Ms Petri, a sales coordinator). According to multiple sources, Ms. Mitchell did not take care of her outward appearance, was prone to wild exaggerations, and was plagued by panic attacks and fits of baseless angst, taking manifestly insufficient care of herself but nevertheless seemed quite a nice, helpful, and generally inexplicably happy individual.
Mr. Brine dated Ms Mitchell for about a week, invited her to lunch twice, and then to a live performance of “The Vagina Monologues”. He then attempted to gain access, through Ms Mitchell, to the file containing the relevant document. The document was still in progress at the time, as reporters from all around the world employed by the magazine were busy gathering information and researching the minutiae of every eligible candidate’s aggregate wealth and the ways of accruing it. The whole team of the periodical was working overtime collecting and evaluating the data, checking and rechecking it, confirming the numbers, reassessing the accumulated material and discussing many fine points of compiling such a list both within the magazine and with many legal, marketing, and accounting specialists outside it. Preceding the publication of this list, Mr. Brine used this extremely stressful atmosphere of confusion, utter nervousness, hectic haste, brutal duress, and sometimes, outright panic to achieve his goal.
Ten days before the publication, he related to Mr. Avraamides his allegedly secret and persistent dream of having sexual intercourse with Ms Mitchell on the conference table of Ms Ennis, the chief editor of the magazine, in the central pit among the flowers, at midnight. Since Mr.. Avraamides seemed to be the solo confidante of Ms Mitchell, Mr. Brine hoped to gain entrance to Ms Ennis’s computer within which all the relevant files were stored, and then to manipulate the data. Before that, Mr. Brine had successfully ingratiated himself with Mr. Avraamides by sharing with him, an avid gastronomy aficionado, an allegedly secret recipe of a pumpkin pie, which Mr. Brine had, apparently, invented himself under the pretense of obtaining it from his great-grandmother. She was described to Mr. Avraamides as a creole magic healer, but in reality worked her entire life long as a retail company clerk selling shaving paraphernalia.
It is not entirely clear what happened in the office of the chief editor on the fateful night when the list was altered for the first time. Ms Mitchell (who when confronted in person, turned out to be just 37 years of age, wholly balanced, reasonably fit, moderately attractive, and independent individual), declared that she “didn’t give a precious little pipsqueak of a fart” about that “[redacted] abominable piece of shit list.” She furthermore stated that her sole concern was that far too many people were involved in the compilation of this “asinine” material.
When she was familiarized with the results of the investigation, and asked to address her mistake in handling the file with the list together with Mr.. Brine (after hours at her superior’s office apparently under the influence of a recreational drug), Ms Mitchell expressed an opinion. She stated, perhaps too eagerly, that, whatever the original intentions and shortcomings of Mr. Brinea, he was an original, candid, and generally harmless individual showing “genuine signs of an immense potential for personal development.”. When Mr. Brine was first made aware of these observations, he appeared unjustifiably agitated, started talking about “the mystique of femininity” and “fate,” and categorically denied use of any controlled substances. It took great effort for the investigation to reconstruct a plausible chain of events, which led to the first alteration of the list. As he distracted Ms Mitchell with stories of his acquaintance with celebrities, Mr. Brine, it appears, , managed to delete one of the names from the list from the chief editor’s personal computer — that of Mr. Breev (Nr 86) — and to replace it with the name of his wife, Mrs. Tanya Brine.
The first to notice the substitution was junior assistant proofreader Mr. Banks. He thought it was a misprint, but his colleague Mr. Epps convinced Mr. Banks to bring the matter to the attention of the senior editorial echelon. Mr. Crawley, the assistant to Ms Ennis and the most senior person on the magazine payroll at 69, was described by some as “having an inhuman nose for bullshit.” He investigated the matter briefly and concluded (mistakenly) that it could have been an accident, an honest error of an overworked colleague who, after many hours of hard work, typed in a similarly sounding name of a minor employee instead of one of the legitimate names on the list. Ms Ennis tasked Ms Mitchell with correcting the mistake and bringing the list in order before sending the complete issue to printers.
Ms Mitchell was inconsiderate enough to inform Mr. Brine about the accident. As she was finishing her job with the file and checking the list for the ninth time, Mr. Brine tried to distract Ms Mitchell again, sending her a high resolution picture of what was supposed to be his naked genitalia. In reality, the image had been borrowed from a widely known online resource entirely dedicated to comparing the lengths of male human reproductive organs to various household objects. When this attempt at diversion failed, Mr. Brine sent Ms Mitchell another text message inviting her to join him in a first floor unisex lavatory for an “urgent meeting.” After Ms Mitchell had responded with a suggestion to postpone the meeting till lunchtime, Mr. Brine ordered a bouquet of flowers called Luxury Romance in Gold, Blue, and Pink delivered to Ms Mitchell with a message “From You-Know-Who With Awe.” The delivery did succeed in diverting the attention of Ms Mitchell from her professional responsibilities for several minutes; it also created some general confusion in the office, which Mr. Brine used to replace, for the second time, the name of the Russian billionaire on the list with the name of his wife.
Almost immediately after that, Mr. Brine began avoiding Ms Mitchell . He eventually switched off his phone and hid in the stationery room in the basement until a colleague discovered him there in the middle of the night, fast asleep. Eventually, the issue of the magazine containing the list passed the usual chain of editorial professionals (correctors etc) without any problems, and was signed off into print.
In response to the accusation leveled against him, Mr.. Brine stated that we all lived in a post-truth world, and that if senior government officials up to and including the President of the United States could manipulate and invent facts at will then “anything was permitted.”
Mrs. Brine didn’t file a divorce at first, but then Mr. Brine was fired, together with everyone involved, apart from Ms Mitchell, who was demoted to the position of the junior Content Specialist. Ms Mitchel then resigned from that position and later found employment with the competition at the local level. For some time, the investigation lost track of Mr. Brine; when he reappeared, it turned out that he had been dating Ms Mitchell for quite a while already and that they contemplated moving in together. Mr. Brine also returned to his old job of data input technician at a facial recognition software company where he progressed, in just three months, to the position of data input supervisor.
The former Mrs. Brine married her singing coach and became Mrs. Francisco. Mr. Avraamides was severely poisoned with pumpkin pie and almost died, the experience, which led to his complete personality change; he is now training to become a priest. Mr. Banks is currently unemployed. Mr. Crawley had lost his aura of infallibility and was motivated into retirement. Due and sincere apologies were made to Mr. Breev who was the first to notice the mistake in print as he was due to move up six places that year from his previous position at Nr 92.
Born in Saint Petersburg, Sergey Bolmat published his first novel in Russian in 2000 to great critical acclaim. His short stories written in English have recently appeared in such publications as The Higgs Weldon, The Willesden Herald, Litro Magazine, Ghost Parachute, decomP magazinE, and The Inquisitive Eater.