Was I a modern day hero, or a meddling troll? Honestly, I’ve heard decent arguments for both. “She’s a saint who volunteers her energy carefully and thoughtfully, tipping the scales in our favor–– the people! Proud to have this mysterious heart of gold in my city.” A comment left on the article posted by one of the local news stations. Sitting alone in my apartment with my cat Frank, I’d read the comment and laughed out loud.
Frank blinked slowly, unimpressed. The commenter below seemed to share his sentiment.
“Honestly, I don't understand why we are celebrating someone who is clearly bored with no life of their own, writing this crap about other people. I repeat, CRAP! You should be ashamed for labeling this gossip as news. Whatever gets the clicks, I guess. I, for one, will be unfollowing. I won’t be supporting a ‘news outlet’ who doesn’t even care about knowing the identity of their sources.”
I looked at the man with the handlebar mustache in the profile picture responsible for the comment and realized he was sort of right. The newspaper didn’t know the real identity of the source of the letter. While I knew for a fact that every grim detail of the letter I’d sent regarding Mr. Fontenelli, the Secretary of the Mayor, had been true–– they hadn’t. I’d spent months digging up all the information regarding the criminal affiliations, secret bank accounts, and even insidious sexual encounters of the city official. But had they dedicated any time at all to verifying any of it before sharing it with the world? Since the letter was posted less than twenty-four hours after I’d sent it, I guessed not.
My disappointment in the lack of responsible reporting by the news hadn’t deterred me from continuing my work though. And the comments continued to roll in, split down the middle with those thanking the hero who was bringing darkness to light, and those filled with contempt. It wasn’t difficult to not take it personally. They weren’t talking about Price Warner, the middle-aged security guard who lived alone with his ginger cat, Frank. They were talking about the clever woman obsessed with justice, armed with only intelligence and the red ink of her typewriter–– The Girl With The Red Ribbon.
The red ink I’d used has since become a famous element of the letters, like a serial killer’s signature. Funny enough, it was a complete accident. The old typewriter was a purchase I’d made years before in an effort to pick up a hobby. I was constantly surrounded by writers working security at one of the city’s newspapers and on a whim, had thought maybe I’d enjoy writing a few shorts and send it in to be published in the paper. I never did though and the typewriter went unused for nearly two years. By the time I’d sat down and placed my fingers on the dusty keys to write the first letter, the black ribbon had dried out. Luckily, the pawn shop had given me one black ribbon and one red with the purchase. The red ribbon letters were born by sheer luck of having that spare ink.
As for why I felt inspired to start writing in the first place, I guess I was tired of hearing something terrible and thinking “someone should really do something about that”. Working at the newspaper I heard things that caused that very thought on a regular basis. The grumblings of frustrated reporters about a story that was getting buried was almost a daily occurrence. Something that I’d learned happened more often than the public realized. There wasn’t necessarily a shortage of good journalists seeking the truth. It was their ability to do so that seemed limited. The politics of the news was a complicated system of appeasing certain parties and steering clear of ruffling the feathers of others. It was a fine line to walk to keep the stories interesting enough to keep readership up without pissing off sponsors, investors, and people of power that could make life difficult. It’s why gossip columns and entertainment stories have become increasingly popular across the board. Didn’t matter the paper or the news station, they all knew that it was far safer to report every grueling detail about what so-and-so was wearing or which couple broke up that week than it was to report on the real stuff that actually mattered. I’d seen many young, passionate journalists come through those doors just to have the fire in their bellies extinguished by the relentless red tape that they couldn’t seem to cut through. Most of them end up quitting the paper to work at TMZ or become a paparazzi. Another casualty of the war on integrity.
While working the night shift one night, I was checking out a string of employees who had stayed working late. One woman rummaged through her purse looking for her employee badge for me to scan while she vented to her coworker.
“I’m so sick of this. Fontenelli is a criminal and everybody knows it. Why am I writing a story about the expensive and, quite frankly, hideous new piece of art hanging in his office when the real story is the woman who recently came forward accusing him of running a sex cult or the photos that leaked last year of him dining with Antonio Bianchi? The man is a bonafide gangster and total creep, but we’re talking about art! Honestly, Sandra, I don’t know how much longer I can stand this.”
I’d watched the two women walk out of the doors of the building, discussing where they could grab a late dinner before heading home. Sighing, I knew the paper was likely going to lose another good reporter. But the details on Fontenelli were even more unsettling. “Someone should really do something about that,” I thought as I shook my head and powered down the computer, preparing to lock up and head home. That night, with Frank purring in my lap as I stroked his back, I googled Fontenelli and spent several hours going down the rabbit hole that was his remarkably corrupt life. That was the very evening that I wondered if maybe I could be the someone who did something about it. The next day was the day I decided I could try.
As you know, since you’ve likely read the Red Ribbon Letter on Fontenelli and every letter since, I was successful in my quest. I became that someone who did something about it. And surprisingly, it wasn’t that hard. I wasn’t chained to a desk having to answer to a boss who had to answer to someone else, rejecting idea’s and sending their ‘no’s’ down the line. The fire in my belly wasn’t so easily extinguished by the obligations of keeping my job. I had a job. I was the friendly security guard, Warner, who greeted them in the mornings and wished them a good night at the end of their long work day. And on my personal time, I became The Girl With The Red Ribbon, ear to the ground and fingers on the keys. By most people’s standards, an unremarkable man who, with a heap of free time, an old typewriter, and a fat ginger cat, became the city’s most trustworthy source of news. It has to be said, though I’m sure you won’t believe me–– if I can do it, anyone can.
All I did was follow leads. A few stake outs, some strategic questions when necessary, and some relatively easy to access public records. It hadn’t been difficult to connect the dots of any one of the subjects of my letters. Whether it was Fontenelli, the Bay Bridge Flasher, or Mrs. Sheila Grant, the woman who’d been stealing funds from a local charity she ran. If I heard a rumor or a story of someone doing bad things, I went for it. It wasn’t just about the big fish like politicians and celebrities. My growing belief in accountability and truth didn’t only apply to them. If you were a bad neighbor, a cheat, a liar, or a bully, my blood red words were coming for you.
My goal wasn’t to hurt people or ruin lives, but I was tired of living in a world without consequence. Whether they were able to hide because they were powerful, or because they were a nobody, I sought to pull them out of the dark and shine a spotlight on them. I hoped to also shine that light on the people who read my words. Because I believe all of us who sat back waiting for someone else to do something about all the bad in the world were just as guilty. We are the ones enabling the news to fill our feed and televisions with fluff. We were the ones recording and posting to the internet instead of actively stopping something bad from happening. We had all the power but we’d gotten too lazy to wield it properly. “The Girl With The Red Ribbon” had become a warning to some, and a reminder to others. We can live in the kind of world we want to, but not if we keep waiting for someone else to make it so.
If you’re reading this, then likely something bad has happened to me. The fame of the letters over the last year has garnered both a fan base and a select few who are determined to reveal my identity and rid the world of me. Since autumn I’ve started feeling increasingly paranoid. Feelings of being followed, cars parked outside of the apartment for hours at night. (Specifically, a blue challenger. Plate number 8JKL981.) Hard to say if it was just my imagination or one of the people who’d publicly sworn to “get rid of the red ribbon troll”. But if you’re reading this I’d wager my suspicions were valid. I’d recommend taking a look into the ‘Cutting The Red Ribbon” group on social media. They’ve been responsible for some of the more malicious comments I’d read. They’re actually the reason I’d decided it a good idea to type this letter and keep a copy in my apartment (address on my I.D.–– Mrs. Flynn across the hall has a spare key. Also, she loves Frank. Please place him in her care.) and one on my person at all times. I wanted to be sure that if something happened, my truth would be known.
I hope I’m wrong, as I do not wish to be hurt or killed, but more than that, I want to be sure that my death doesn’t result in the end of the spirit of the Red Ribbon Letters. It may not be that difficult to silence one middle-aged security guard with a typewriter. But they may find it much harder to quiet the masses who have been inspired by the truth of a few red letters on a page. Please make sure this letter, which would be my last if you’re reading it, finds its way to the proper sources. And thank you all for reading.
— Price Warner, “The Girl With The Red Ribbon”