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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

FACES & VOICES: Are Reporter's Reject Sources Really Crazy?




I was writing an article in my paper's newsroom Monday when our receptionist said I had a visitor who wanted to discuss "a human rights issue."


Little did she know.


The visitor was a short, stocky, crop-haired young man named Kostya. He pulled his chair close to my desk, emitting the strong smell of a person who has not showered in weeks.


Kostya said his home had been bugged by the police and the Federal Security Service who want him to tell them what he knows - "and I know a lot, believe me" - about "corruption and crime in the highest echelons of law enforcement."


I asked him how he knew about crime in the highest echelons of law enforcement.


"Because I am a member of the Russian mafia," he said. "I am with the Malyshev clan."


I am not particularly educated in the doings of the Russian mafia, but I do know that Alexander Malyshev was considered the head of one of the most powerful crime groups in St. Petersburg in mid-1990s. Kostya definitely did not strike me as a big-time gangster.


I did not have the time to express my doubts about his criminal activities, though, because Kostya moved closer to me, enveloping me in a thick wave of his smell, and said in a loud whisper: "They listen to my thoughts!"


I must have looked really dumbfounded because Kostya leaned back and asked me if I believed that his thoughts could be listened to.


"Er, no," I said. "No, I don't think so."


Without a word, Kostya stood up and left the office. Phew!


Kostya will never come back - although I am quite sure he is now on his way to some other newsroom.


Neither will Tatyana, whose 50-plus-page file rests on my shelf ever since she dropped by in 1998. Tatyana has been a thorn in the side of St. Petersburg newspapers ever since she decided that space aliens moved in next door to her and switched on special equipment that accelerates the decay of food in her refrigerator and also gives her teenage son a permanent headache.


Rather than craving attention for her far-out neighbors, however, all Tatyana wants is redress for the aliens' behavior, which she believes to violate the European Convention on Human Rights.


But I don't believe I will ever quit hearing from Alexander, who likes to send me Xeroxed copies of his medical files, photos of his face and nursery rhymes.


Alexander was booted off the police force after he was diagnosed with schizophrenia in the mid-1990s. Since 1997, he has been unsuccessfully seeking to get his job back with help from media. About every five months or so, he sends me a fresh communique.


So what's a reporter to do with stories like these? We can keep the files and have a laugh with friends. But what if people like Tatyana and Alexander are right? Then, I would have to rely on a friend who was once given a special phone number. The number, his source told him, was a hotline to Jesus's office that, once called, would exempt him from the apocalypse. Now, what did I do with that number?


Helen Womack is on vacation.