Loose Lips Sink Ships

Loose Lips Sink Ships

Loose lips sink shipsBy: James G. Boswell –

“This building is designed to collapse with everyone inside of it,” Leslie thought as she stared at the building plans in disbelief. “There’s something seriously wrong here.” She brought the plans to her manager’s office, knocked on his open door, and said, “Tom, we need to talk.”

Tom looked up at her from behind his desk with a mildly surprised expression and said, “Of course, Leslie. What is it?”

She unrolled the plans on top of his desk as she said, “Take a look at this.”

Tom looked at them for a moment and said, “Ah yes, this is the new skyscraper we’re designing for the city. It’s one of our largest projects ever. Very exciting stuff, isn’t it?”

“Notice anything unusual?” she asked.

Tom looked at her quizzically, then examined the plans in front of him more closely. After several moments, he said, “No, I can’t say I do. What seems to be the problem?”

“The support infrastructure in the building’s base is completely wrong. If the construction company builds it the way we designed it, then it would collapse once it reached nearly full capacity. Thousands of people would die. This must be a mistake.”

Tom stared at her with a bewildered expression for a few moments, then said, “Leslie, what is your roll in the design of this structure?”

Leslie sighed and said, “Selecting construction materials, preparing reports, and…”

Tom cut her off impatiently and said, “You aren’t directly involved in the actual design of the building, are you?”

Leslie pursed her lips in anger and said, “No.”

“And how long have you been a structural engineer?”

“I got my license three years ago.”

“Meanwhile, those building plans were put together by a whole team of engineers, some of whom have 20, 30, and even up to 40 years of experience respectively. How long have you been with this firm?”

“Ever since I got my license.”

Tom’s voice increased in volume and his demeanor took on an edge as he said. “So then, you know that Burns & Veatch is a world-class engineering firm, and that our building plans always exceed the highest industry standards for quality and safety, as they have ever since the firm’s inception nearly 100 years ago?”

“You’re right, Tom,” Leslie said in a defeated tone. “I guess I made a mistake.”

Tom furrowed his brow and slowly said, “Yes, I suppose you did.”

Several hours later, after everyone else had gone home including Tom, Leslie printed an extra set of the building plans out and stuffed them into her bag. As she got into her car, she nervously recalled what her firm’s security director had said during her new employee orientation:

“Taking building plans, designs, or blueprints home with you is strictly forbidden without the direct written approval of your immediate supervisor. Failure to observe this policy, even if it’s an honest mistake, is a fireable offense. Otherwise, we risk our confidential intellectual property falling into the hands of people who shouldn’t have it. After all, ‘Loose lips sink ships,’ as they say.”


Leslie unrolled the building plans on top of the lawyer’s oversize mahogany desk, and he immediately began to pore over them. As he studied the plans, she examined the various framed documents that festooned the dark wood-paneled walls all over his office. One was his law degree from Harvard Law School, another was his master’s degree in structural engineering from Stanford University. The rest of the documents consisted mainly of various newspaper articles. She read one of the headlines which said, “Lawyer Templeton wins multi-million-dollar liability case against national engineering firm.” Another one said, “Templeton successfully sues construction company for millions in damages.”

Finally, her eyes came to rest on a plaque made of black and white marble. It was inscribed with words in big block letters that said, “Bartholomew J. Templeton, Lawyer of the Year – The National Association of Plaintiff’s Lawyers.” Beneath that inscription, there was another line in italics that said, “Sue the bastards.”

After several minutes, Bartholomew said matter-of-factly, “You stole these plans, didn’t you?”

She looked at him for a moment and said, “Yes, but…”

He held his hand up and said, “You did the right thing. Based on my terse examination, there are several severe problems in the building’s infrastructure that would result in a catastrophic failure if it had to support the weight of even a normal amount of people inside of it. Has this design gone to the city inspector’s office yet?”

“Yes, but they already approved it,” she said.

Bartholomew shook his head and said, “That shouldn’t have happened. The inspector should have been able to tell right away that something was off.”

“What does this mean?”

“It means three things: First, the people who created this design are either grossly incompetent or have intentionally designed a building that can barely support its own weight. I don’t know why anyone would do that, but if I had to guess, I’d say it’s some kind of insurance fraud. Second, the city inspector is also either incompetent or corrupt as well. Third, we have a lawsuit to put together.”

He continued, “In the meantime, don’t tell anyone, and I mean anyone, that you believe there might be problems with the design of this building. Have you spoken to anyone about this already?”

“I talked to my boss about it.”

“And what did he say?”

“He blew me off.”

“Well, so long as you don’t say anything more to him or anyone else, we shouldn’t have a problem. These building plans show a negligent and perhaps even criminal disregard for people’s safety by both the engineering firm and the city. We should be able to secure a sizable amount of damages once we show the judge this evidence, and we’ll maintain your anonymity during the litigation as well. Your career will be safe, and you’ll have prevented what could’ve been a major catastrophe. In addition, you’ll have quite a bit of money in the bank when this is over. How’s that sound?”

Leslie smiled meekly and said, “That all sounds great, but I’m not doing it for the money.”

Bartholomew smiled and winked as he said, “Of course not. I’ll just need to keep these plans with me for the time being. You say you didn’t print off any other copies?”

Leslie eyed the plans anxiously and said, “No, those are the only ones.”

“Good, then they shall stay here where they’ll be safe. In the meantime, don’t discuss this with anyone. Also, don’t print off any more copies. Just continue about your work as though nothing was wrong at all. I’ll contact you when it’s time for us to proceed with the lawsuit. Remember: don’t say anything about this to anyone. ‘Loose lips sink ships,’ as they say.”

Leslie nodded and said, “I understand.”


Several weeks passed and Leslie heard nothing from the lawyer. She followed his instructions not to say anything about the pending lawsuit and concentrated on her work as though nothing was amiss. Meanwhile, she watched as the skyscraper design project progressed to the point where it was nearly time to begin construction.

On one Friday morning, she received an email from Tom. It simply said, “Brief mtg. My office. 4:00 p.m.”

“That’s weird,” she thought. “Normally, when Tom wants to talk to me, he just comes to my cubicle.” It gave her an uneasy feeling.

At 3:58, she walked down to Tom’s office and found his door closed. “That’s really weird,” she thought. “I’ve never seen Tom’s door closed during office hours the entire time I’ve been here.”

Disquieted, she knocked on the door twice. “Come in,” came Tom’s voice from inside.

She opened the door and stepped into the room. Tom sat behind his desk, and across from him sat a small older woman Leslie had never seen before.

“Come in, Leslie, and close the door behind you,” he said.

Leslie did as he asked, then sat at the other chair in front of Tom’s desk next to the woman.

Tom said, “Leslie, this is Margaret Bonner, the firm’s human resources director. Before we begin, is there anything you want to tell me?”

Leslie quickly shook her head and said, “No.”

Tom took a deep breath and said. “Ok, then. Leslie, as you know, we’ve been having some serious problems with your work.”

“What?” Leslie asked in a confused tone.

Tom opened his desk drawer and took out several pieces of paper. He then handed them to Margaret who began to sift through them silently.

“These are the many disciplinary reports you’ve accumulated in regard to your poor quality of work over the past three years. As you know, we’ve discussed your performance issues numerous times, and you’ve signed off on each one of these reports. However, you’ve done nothing to rectify the situation, and I’m afraid your time is up. We’re terminating your employment, effective immediately.”

Stunned, Leslie said, “Tom, you and I both know this is bullshit. You’ve never disciplined me for anything ever before, and I’ve never signed any disciplinary reports of any kind. You’ve always complimented my work before and we’ve never had any problems, professional or personal. This is a total bluff.”

Tom smirked as he shook his head and looked at Margaret. Then, he pointed at the documents in her hands and said, “If that’s the case, then how did your signature get on all those reports?”

Leslie grabbed the papers out of Margaret’s hands and began going through them. To her dismay, she found that her signature was indeed written on all of them.

“I know you’re lying, Tom,” she said. “You forged my signature on all these documents. This is just so you can fire me without any risk of getting sued for wrongful termination. It’s because I asked about the faulty skyscraper design isn’t it?”

Leslie knew she had broken her lawyer’s rule not to discuss the design, but she was outraged that Tom had treated her this way. She was totally blindsided.

Stone-faced, Tom said, “You have 10 minutes to gather your belongings from your desk, and then security will escort you out. Anything you leave behind will be thrown into the trash.”


Fifteen minutes later, Leslie walked to her car in the firm’s parking lot with a cardboard box filled with her things. She placed the box into her car and then got inside. As she pondered her situation, she thought “They must have figured out that I stole the faulty skyscraper design. I bet Tom checked the print log records the next day after I talked to him about it. But, if he knew I stole the design, why didn’t he just fire me over that? Why create a paper trail of fake disciplinary reports?”

Then, she realized the answer and thought, “Because then that would call unwanted attention to the design itself and would raise questions as to why I stole it in the first place. Especially if I sued them for wrongful termination. That means they must definitely want to keep it a secret.”

She decided to call her lawyer, Bartholomew. The phone rang for nearly a minute, but nobody answered. She tried again, but the same thing happened. She thought, “That’s odd. His voicemail system picked up after the fourth ring when I called to set up our first meeting.”

Leslie decided to drive to his office to tell him what happened and to see what progress he’d made in preparing their lawsuit. She thought, “If he’s busy, I’ll just sit in his waiting room until he’s available.”

When she arrived, she was horrified to see that burn marks and soot covered his one-story office building. The windows that lined the front of the building were all broken out, and glass littered the ground outside the building. The whole area was surrounded by yellow perimeter tape from the fire department with the words “Danger – Do Not Cross” printed on it.

She approached the building and peered inside to see that the entire office was now just a burned-out shell. Scorched file cabinets and the charred remains of the large mahogany desk were all that was left. Curiously, the wall-hangings including Bartholomew’s degrees and the articles describing his conquests were all gone. She could see no remnants on the floor to suggest they’d been destroyed in the fire. It was as if someone had taken them down before it started.


Leslie arrived at her apartment shortly thereafter, exhausted, and decided to take a shower. When she flipped on the bathroom light, she screamed at what she saw. Someone had taken one of her lipsticks, a deep blood-like shade of red, and written on her bathroom mirror in large, jagged letters, “Loose lips sink ships.”

Frantically, she grabbed her phone and called the police.

The dispatcher said, “911. What’s your emergency?”

Leslie said, “Someone broke into my apartment,”

“Are they still there?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Have they stolen anything?”

“Not that I can see.”

“Can you give me your address please?”

Leslie gave the dispatcher her address, but then there was a pause. She asked, “Hello, are you still there? Are you going to send over an officer?”

Several moments passed and there was no answer.

Leslie was about to hang up and call again when she heard a husky male voice come onto the line and say, “I see you got our message. You should take our advice, Leslie. It would be a shame if you got hurt.” Then the line went dead.


Leslie sat in her car across the street from her now ex-employer’s office. It was 5:30 p.m. on a Tuesday. She spotted Tom as he exited the building with his powder blue tie flapping in the wind.

He got into his car and pulled out of the parking lot into the street. Leslie waited a few moments and then began to follow him. She knew where he lived because he’d once hosted an employee barbecue at his home. However, he drove past the place where he was supposed to turn to get onto his street, and instead went straight towards the highway.

“What am I doing?” Leslie asked herself. “This is crazy. I don’t even know where he might be headed.” Still, something made her feel compelled to follow him. She said to herself, “I need to find out what’s going on, and I have no other options.”

Tom drove for nearly 30 minutes as he took a winding path through the city until he entered a rundown area full of empty warehouses. There were no other cars or people around, so Leslie had to stay far back so he wouldn’t spot her. Finally, he stopped his car on a side street and got out. Leslie stopped her car as well and rushed to follow him on foot.

Tom traipsed through a byzantine network of streets and back alleys in the blighted urban sprawl, and Leslie struggled to keep up. Finally, he arrived at one particularly large and imposing building surrounded by chain link fence topped with razor wire. Leslie crouched and peaked from behind a corner as Tom approached a door on the side of the building that had no door handle or any other way to open it from outside. She watched as he knocked on the door in a peculiar way with several rapid taps followed by two hard thumps with long pauses in between. He then appeared to say something, but she couldn’t hear what. A moment later, the door opened, and Tom stepped inside.

Leslie saw that there was a hole in the fence and several metal storage containers lined up against the side of the building, one of which was directly beneath a smashed-out window on the second floor. She took a deep breath and then crouch-ran through the fence, scrambled up on top of the container, and crawled into the building through the opening. She found herself on a suspended walkway that overlooked the main warehouse floor below.

She looked down as she ducked behind some small wooden boxes nearby and saw there were nearly a dozen men who mingled in the center of the floor. They all wore strange robes that looked to be made of tattered black canvas. She spotted Tom among the group and saw that he now wore a robe as well. One particularly large man with several robes folded over his huge arm stood next to the door that Tom had entered through.

Someone else knocked on the door, and the large man cupped his giant hand against it and said, “That is not dead which can eternal lie…” He then leaned his head against the door as though he was listening for a reply and opened it a second later. Another man entered wearing a suit, and Leslie was dumbfounded to see that it was her lawyer, Bartholomew Templeton. The large man handed him a robe which he slid on over his suit, and he then joined the rest of the group that congregated in the middle of the floor.

Leslie took a closer look at the group of men and was even more surprised to discover that she recognized some of them as well. One was the CEO of her engineering firm. Another was the president of the construction firm that was going to build the skyscraper project, whom she’d met at a professional networking event not long ago. She also recognized the chief of police from seeing his picture in a recent newspaper article about crime in the city. Then, she saw the mayor himself.

One of the men she didn’t recognize held up his hands and said in a booming voice, “Gentlemen, we have all arrived. Let us begin.”

They immediately formed a circle and held their hands above their heads in an exalting manner. Their leader said, “That is not dead which can eternal lie!”

The group answered, “And with strange aeons, even death may die!”

The leader said, “Lä! Iä! Cthulhu fhtagn!”

The group responded, “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn!”

They continued to chant for several minutes. As they did so, an otherworldly purple light appeared in the middle of the circle. It formed a symbol that resembled a double pentagram with several lines that shot off from the top. Some of the lines were straight while others were curved with small circles at the end. The men continued to chant as the light from the symbol grew brighter and more intense.

Leslie took out her phone and attempted to take pictures of this bizarre display. However, just as she opened her camera app, the screen flickered and went dark. Then, the symbol appeared on her phone’s screen as well.

The group abruptly stopped its chant, and the leader shouted, “Great Cthulhu, we beseech you! The time of is nigh when we shall sacrifice thousands of souls in your name! Accept our offering and make us as gods among men!”

Filled with fear, Leslie turned to escape out the window but was confronted by a man wearing a dark trench coat. He immediately clamped his hand over her throat and pressed her against the wall. Then, he leaned in close to her face and whispered in a husky voice, “Loose lips sink ships.” He struck her over the head with a metal pipe, and she fell to the floor, unconscious.


Leslie opened her eyes and looked around, disoriented. Slowly, she realized that she sat in a chair in the middle of the glowing symbol on the floor, surrounded by the cultists. They chanted, “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn!”

She struggled to move, but then realized her hands and feet were bound to the chair. Desperately, she tried to make eye contact with Tom or Bartholomew, but they merely stared off into space and ignored her as they continued to chant.

The cult’s leader stepped out from behind her and lifted an ornate dagger over his head. He shouted, “Lä! Iä! Cthulhu fhtagn!” and plunged the dagger down towards her heart.

A shot rang out, and the cult leader slumped to the floor with a pained expression on his face and a gaping wound in his chest. The cultists stopped their chant and looked around in confusion. The purple symbol on the floor disappeared. Then, law enforcement officers clad in tactical gear burst through the doors and broke through the windows on the first and second floors. A woman’s voice sounded over a megaphone, “This is the FBI! You are surrounded! Lay on the floor with your arms and legs spread.”

The cultists began to comply, but Tom ran toward the back of the warehouse in an attempt to escape. One of the officers shot him in the leg, and he cried out in agony as he sprawled onto the floor.

Once all the cultists had been arrested, the FBI agent who led the assault untied Leslie and said, “I’m Special Agent Charlot Tomes. Thanks to you, we were able to make a move on these bastards.”

“They were going to murder thousands of people,” Leslie said, her voice shaking. “They planned to construct a building that was purposefully designed to fail and kill everyone inside.”

“We know,” Charlot replied. “But we didn’t have enough evidence to act on it. They’ve been having these weird little cult meetings with the strange light show for weeks now, chanting their arcane gibberish and talking about human sacrifices. As bizarre as that may be, it’s not illegal unless they actually do something about it. When we saw they were about to murder you, however, we were able to intervene and shut them down. Now, we can get warrants to search all their properties for evidence of anything tied to their cult. You’re a hero.”


Leslie sat in her kitchen and sipped coffee as she scanned the news headlines on her tablet. She was taking a break from writing her business plan for her own forensic engineering consultancy which she planned to start soon.

She stopped when she came across the headline, “City hall rocked by investigation into cult activity.” Beneath it was a picture of the mayor in his cult robe as he was being led in handcuffs to a police car. Tom’s unhappy face appeared in the background – he was handcuffed to a gurney with his leg wrapped in a bandage. Leslie smiled with satisfaction as she took another sip of coffee then looked out the window into the beautiful blue sky.

When she looked back down at her tablet, the screen flickered and went dark. The pentagram symbol then appeared on the screen as it had with her phone back at the warehouse. As she stared in horror, she heard an unearthly voice in her head which said menacingly, “Loose lips sink ships.”

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