The ingredients are spicy enough for a pulp novel.
Documents are shredded by employees of South Korean businessman Tongsun Park, a prime character in the unfolding story of his government's alleged effort to buy influence on Capitol Hill.
Enterprising young free-lance reporters, with the help of a confidential source, spirit away garbage bags full of documents in confetti strips.
In a painstaking exercise that lasts for weeks, they fit together pieces of paper jigsaw puzzles, revealing letters, overdue bills, international business messages and bits and pieces of Park's relationships with scores of U.S. representatives and senators and former Vice President Spiro T, Agnew.
Stories based on the samples of re-assembled shreds are shown to columnist Jack Anderson, several newspapers including The Washington Post and investigators for a congressional committee.
Then the committe starts waving a subpoena, setting up a possible First Amendment confrontation over custody of the cache of the spaghetti-like strips, which the reporters hope will help in the writing of a book.
The scenario sounds bizarre, but it is real.
Yesterday, after a subpoena was withdrawn, free-lance reporters Lewis Perdue and Ken Cummins turned over to the House ethics committee several bags of shredded documents from the Washington office of Tongsun Park.
According to Perdue, the story started last fall when Robin Moore, author of "The French Connection" and saucy memoirs of the likes of "Happy Hooker" Xaviera Hollander, came to Washington looking for a book about abuses of power in the nation's capitol.
Moore hooked up with Perdue after unsuccessful attempts to buy the stories of Betty Jane Ackerman, the congressional worker who taped the torrid conversations of her affair with now Michigan Sen. Donald Reigle, and Suzi Thomson, an aide to former House Speaker Carl Albert, and a key witness in the current South Korean investigations.
Perdue said he agreed to write a book for Moore about the corruption of power, under the title "The Washington Connection."
While fishing around for information on the still-developing South Korean scandal in mid-March, Perdue said, he got the "brainstorm" one night to raid the garbage cans at Tongsun Park's Pacific Development Co., 1604 K St. NW.
The result was an assortment of cigarette butts, burger Chef wrappers from the shop next door, and hopelessly garbled shreds of documents. But later, with the help of a confidential source, Perdue and his colleague Cummins, both 28, began get papers that they thought could possibly be reassembled.
"We were so hungry for information that we were willing to do it," Perdue said yesterday after turning great piles of still unassembled shreds over to the committee.
So with the help of four young would-be investigators, Perdue and Cummins rented a room in a run-down building near their National Press Building office and began the laborious task of piecing the shreds together.
First the pieces were sorted by length and color and texture and put into clear plastic baggies pinned to the wall. Then using pins on poster board, the individual shreds were jitted together like so many bits of jig saw puzzle that could jiggle and might topple political careers.
Perdue said it took more than a week of 16 and 18 hour days to find the first indication of Tongsun Park's connections to Capital Hill lobbying, an April 24, 1975, memo from a Park aide mentioning that Suzi Thomson was "a close information source" to five congressmen.
"We were floored, absolutely astounded, when we put that together," Perdue recalled. "It was the kind of thing we were looking for but we were beginning to think we'd never find it"
That document was the basis of a William Safire column in the New York Times yesterday, a circumstance that left Perdue and Cummins puzzled and angry.
Though some of the reassembled documents have been shown to newspapers around town, the Thomson memo was not among them, Perdue said. "We'd sure like to know where he (Safire) got it."
Late last month, syndicated columnist Jack Anderson wrote two columnist Jack Anderson wrote two columns based on documents he said Perdue and Cummins had "saved" from Tongsun Park's shredder.
A short time later, Perdue said, he arranged to show samples of the material to John W. Nields Jr., a special counsel to the House ethics committee investigating possible misconduct of members who accepted cash and gifts from Tongsun Park and other South Koreans.
But he said his source would not allow him to turn the shreds over to the investigating committee at that time.
Perdue then turned the documents over to The Washington Post, with the understanding that he and Cummins would be given credit if any stories were developed from the material.
Last week, the ethics committee issued a subpoena to Perdue for all the Tongsun Park documents or "parts thereof" in his possession.
Perdue then raised questions with The Post about whether the material was still legally his and whether public release of the documents might compromises his confidential source.
On Tuesday The Post returned all the shredded material to Perdue's lawyer. And yesterday, after Perdue said he got permission from his source, the subpoena was withdrawn and he voluntarily turned the material over to the committee.
The committee will apparently continue the jigsaw puzzle exercise.