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FP385 – Spawn: A Collective Detective Chronicle

Tonight we bring you a tale of the Collective Detective, the loose band of online detectives who mine the depths of the accidentally leaked NSA archives to solve long cold crimes. In this episode we find Bug Byte, editor and film buff, taking in a digital ghost story.

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and eighty-five.

Flash PulpTonight we present Spawn: A Collective Detective Chronicle

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by Every Photo Tells…

 

Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.

Tonight we bring you a tale of the Collective Detective, the loose band of online detectives who mine the depths of the accidentally leaked NSA archives to solve long cold crimes. In this episode we find Bug Byte, editor and film buff, taking in a digital ghost story.

 

Spawn: A Collective Detective Chronicle

Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May

 

Bug Byte was in the darkness of his home office, watching a subtitled French mystery movie and thinking on how fantastically cultured he was for doing so, when the bing came in. As his main machine was occupied with streaming the film, he slapped the shift key on his laptop till its screen saver surrendered his notification list.

Once his eyes adjusted to the glare of the white display, he discovered one of the new contributors had been busy. In just thirty minutes the newb had made a dozen large additions to a case Bug had considered dead in the water since the day it’d been created. Two clicks revealed it was the only entry Doubting Charlie had ever worked on.

“Eat deathray, spambot,” said the editor, but the black and white Frenchman in the fedora didn’t seem to get it.

Before Bug pulled up the tools to destroy the apparently fake user and its efforts, however, he took a moment to scan the text to determine if he might find a clue to help the developers tighten their filters.

Instead he was surprised to discover a ghost story still in the process of being told.

“You don’t need to hit publish constantly, the system saves a draft under your user files,” he wrote in the discussion page. Flagging the conversation into his high-priority queue, Bug sent the detective in the well-cut suit into reverse and watched the missed conversation flicker over the edge of a half-drank scotch.

Before he could set the sleuth back into action, a reply boop ricocheted from the speakers to his left.

Leaving the image of the enquêteur privé with his glass hovering before his lips, Bug read the short response: “Thanks.”

With the play button under his thumb, the editor shook his head and decided to quickly review the tale from the beginning.

“When I was thirteen I met this guy from the apartment building I lived in who also played Realms of Fantasy. At the time Realms was huge online because of the way real money was flowing through it, but Alexander Bottin was the sole person I knew who played. He was way older than me, twenty maybe, and sort of a jerk, but we usually had a lot of decent tips to swap, and I gotta admit that I felt like a badass having a common interest with a twenty-year-old.

“I only learned Alexander played because I’d been trapped in the elevator with his uncle and him. I always hit the close button when I saw that monster coming down the hall because he smells like shit. I don’t mean that as a metaphor either, he smells like actual human feces. Anyhow, as they came in Alex was talking about how he’d looted Shatter Tooth.

“Tooth was a high powered war hammer that, back then, you could sell for five or six hundred dollars on eBay.

“His uncle coughed and said, “shut the fuck up.” He didn’t care, but when I saw my fellow gamer later that week I got his username and told him about Sharlor, my healer. I admitted I was impressed that he’d scored his hammer, and he seemed impressed that Sharlor was two levels higher than his warrior, Chaney.

“It’s funny, because I still think of him more as Chaney than Alexander.

“Now, I don’t want to make it sound like we were constantly chummy and hanging out. Alex had this thing he’d do where he’d like grab my nose with one hand then bop it with the other and that was hella annoying. He was that guy who doesn’t understand how to make conversation so he’s awkward and kind of dickish instead, I guess.

“I was hard up for friends, but not that hard up. If I saw him in the mail area we’d chat over the latest expansion or where the good loot was dropping, but that was it – and, even then, half the time his uncle was there. I totally avoided him when that happened.

“I never learned his uncle’s name. He was a bent tree of an old man who always wore an over-sized floppy hat and huge dark glasses. Beyond that he was so ancient he’d aged into looking like a stereotype. Sort of like the angriest Popeye, but without the forearms.

“Worse, if he didn’t think anyone was watching, and Alexander pissed him off by dropping a flyer or something, he’d lay his cane as hard as he could across his calves. Chaney never wore shorts even during the warmest parts of summer.

“I remember that especially because it was August, and I was fourteen, when he died.

“He’d just found the Blade of Earth Cleaving and he was constantly bragging. If I’d found a sword worth three or four thousand dollars maybe I’d act the same.

Tonight we bring you a tale of the Collective Detective, the loose band of online detectives who mine the depths of the accidentally leaked NSA archives to solve long cold crimes. In this episode we find Bug Byte, editor and film buff, taking in a digital ghost story.“Honestly, by then I was sort of getting interested in other things, but Mom had seen me wave when we passed him so she told me the news going around the building: They’d taken Alex out on a stretcher earlier that week. He’d apparently fallen down the fire stairs and snapped his neck.

“I knew that was bullshit though. I knew he’d been murdered by his uncle. The Saturday before -”

Bug Byte frowned at the sudden conclusion.

With a sigh he reminded himself that he had two hours till he was due at work, and that his movie wasn’t going to watch itself. Still, he waited out the five minute autosave until he could continue.

“I knew that was bullshit though. I knew he’d been murdered by his uncle. The Saturday before the supposed accident I’d seen him in the mailroom with some special effects stuff he’d bought online. That was his other big hobby – he wanted to be a makeup guy in movies. Usually when he got new blood to try, or a prop knife, or whatever he was really excited about it, but this time it was like he was looking through the box. When I found him staring like that, I asked if everything was okay. He almost started crying, but he acted like he was suddenly fascinated by the address label. He said his uncle was insanely angry with him lately and he didn’t know if he’d be able to survive it much longer.

“The whole thing hit deep. I told Mom I was too sick to go to school the next day and spent my afternoon crying and wandering Realms. We’d never really played together, but we’d traded gear a few times, and, well, like I said, I was fourteen.

“I was hanging around the Silent Meadow, which is where we usually met because it was easy to access but almost always empty, when I saw him.

“He ran through the tall grass and permanent soft lighting, stop-”

This time Bug felt a need to fill the gap till the next save. Digging his well practiced hooks into the depths of the Collective’s archive crawling tools, he summoned the online memories of Alexander Bottin and his Realms of Fantasy account. The code to mine video games for data was in deep beta, but at least it was a start.

Then the update arrived.

“He ran through the tall grass and permanent soft lighting, stopped for two seconds in front of a dwarf, and they both disappeared.

“I exploded. At first I thought Mom had been wrong, and I ran down the two floors to his place.

“I’d never visited, but I figured he was in there playing and I was ridiculously happy to realize how wrong I’d been. It was the uncle who answered, though, and he didn’t bother taking off the security chain. I asked for Alex but he simply snarled and slammed the door.

“The next day, when I got back from school, I noticed a sign advertising a used computer taped to the laundry room wall. The address for inquiries was Chaney’s.

“I called the cops once, but nothing came of it.

“He’s got to be well over a hundred now, but whenever I visit Mom I purposefully go out of my way to pass Bottin’s. I haven’t seen him in years, but he’s in there. I think about saying something every time, but it’s always like it’s suddenly a decade ago and I’m just thirteen.

“I believe that miserable SOB murdered his nephew and managed to sell his gear, but I’ve never had any idea on how to look into it. Tonight I got a little drunk, and maybe a little nostalgic for the lands of my youth, so I did some searching around and it seems you’ve got a file here for Alexander Bottin, but it says he’s -”

Rarely did the Collective receive first hand testimony, but Bug had been an editor long enough to know not to trust anything that wasn’t straight from the archives.

It was even rarer that an answer was in hand before the relevant entries were even updated.

Bug Byte’s search chimed with results.

Opening the discussion page, he began to compose his response.

“You’ve waited this long, I suppose I shouldn’t keep you in suspense:

“Yes, Alexander Bottin is listed as a missing person, not a murder case. The police talked to his uncle once after an anonymous phone tip was made, but he claimed that Alex had run off. Given his age, if the cops hadn’t been as bored as they were they probably wouldn’t have opened the file at all.

“The dwarf was a guy named Richard Smyth, but both players were connected from the same address – Alexander’s modem.

“Interestingly, a search of that modem’s traffic shows that Uncle Bottin also signed up to handle all of his banking online that very week, a day after he ordered a new computer.

“Looking back a couple weeks at the local data, I see that the same IP made an order from an online prop house. Are you familiar with ultra-realistic silicone masks? They were just getting started back then, and FX guys were huge into them. Generic Old Man was one of the most popular models.

“I suspect Uncle Bottin’s Popeye style means he had no teeth, so, after murdering him, Alex probably left the body in an alley somewhere and the city hauled it off as an unidentifiable homeless John Doe. Then all he had to do was pull on the old guy mask and spread the rumour that he’d died so people would stop asking questions.

“He might’ve gotten away with it too if you hadn’t seen his digital ghost. I do wonder if he’s found life in that apartment, collecting his dead Uncle’s benefits checks, a special prison of its own though.

“Of course, that’s all guessing, but it should be easy to knock hard enough to pinch the geezer’s nose and see if it stretches.

“I’m a twenty minute bus ride away – care to mount up for one last adventure, priest?”

Nodding to himself, Bug sent the Frenchman into hibernate and hit send.

He didn’t have to wait long for a reply, but he was happy to see his efforts to sound sick, as he called in to work, weren’t wasted.

It was not, however, the last adventure for either.

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Intro and outro work provided by Jay Langejans of The New Fiction Writers podcast.

Freesound.org credits:

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

- and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

FP316 – Under Wraps: a Collective Detective Chronicle, Part 1 of 1

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and sixteen.

Flash PulpTonight we present Under Wraps: a Collective Detective Chronicle, Part 1 of 1

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by Jonja.net

Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.

Tonight, a member of our band of online detectives finishes his search through the databases made available by leaked Bush-era Internet wiretapping, and arrives at some unpleasant, and homicidal, conclusions.

Under Wraps: a Collective Detective Chronicle

Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May

Skinner Co.4:33 AM

Private Chat Opened.

RottenDane> Hey?

4:36 AM

RottenDane> You up?

4:38AM

RottenDane> I’m going to call if you don’t answer in 5 minutes.

4:40AM

Harrisment > You said five minutes, but that was two, at most.

RottenDane> You were sleeping anyway, what does it matter to you?

Harrisment > It would have been another three minutes of unconsciousness. That might have been enough to save your life if this isn’t incredibly important.

RottenDane> Oh, it is.

RottenDane> I’ve cracked one!

Harrisment> Great. Make an omelet and call me back in the morning.

RottenDane> Ha. Ha.

Harrisment> Fine, but tell me quickly, I can still hear my pillow calling my name.

RottenDane> A week ago I was flipping through the cold case file, pulling up randoms, and I found a stub someone had started for a missing person. It looked like they’d tracked down his iPod traffic from his home network, but hadn’t poked too deeply from there. Hell, some of the info that WAS logged, I would later find out, was actually wrong. Very amateur stuff.

Harrisment> Well, you DO know amateur stuff.

Rotten Dane> It wasn’t much to go on, so I took a step back and tried to fill out a wider picture. Digging through the parents’ Facebook stuff made it pretty clear that the Dad was deeply religious and the Mom was a hypochondriac. The sort of folks with plastic on the couch, I imagine. I doubt James Robert Russell, the kid, was even picking his own clothes – at least, if the newspaper photos were any indication.

Harrisment> How old are we talking here?

RottenDane> Fourteen. Old enough to want to rebel, but not old enough to do it properly.

Harrisment> OK. Why was he so popular as to be in the local paper after he went missing?

RottenDane> Well, Mom and Pop Russell were pillars of the community – well funded pillars. They sold Hondas at a string of five conveniently located dealerships just off I-95. I dunno, maybe they were so religious and paranoid because they were in the business of screwing people. Everything I’ve read from Dad’s emails indicates that his son wasn’t allowed to go to dances, movie theaters, or malls. Mr. R also managed to disable most of the useful parts of his son’s iPod – or the bits that would have allowed him some outside communication, anyway.

RottenDane> He was worried Satan might friend junior on Facebook, I guess.

RottenDane> Baby Russell’s social interactions were generally limited to classroom hours and his Uncle Dwayne’s Sunday dinner visits.

Harrisment> Is this going to turn out to be a homicidal parental? Or is it a suicide? Weird things grow when people are left that much in the dark.

RottenDane> You’re closer than you think, but, no. They may have been stiff, but it was obvious in their interviews that both parents loved James Robert deeply until they died in a Civic that they probably sold themselves. Header with a sleepy transport driver.

RottenDane> They did always refer to him as James Robert though.

Harrisment> Huh.

RottenDane> Now, that’s not to say that JR was without his rebellious side. He smoked – well, at lunch and break – and he snuck a game through his Dad’s filter: A shooter called Fox Blisters. He played it online with his best friend, Zachary, also known as ZachAttack92.

RottenDane> The smoking part came up because of the theory that James Robert had been kidnapped outside the school – lit cigarettes weren’t permitted on the property and it was one of the few times he was regularly alone.

RottenDane> The ransom demands arrived soon after JR’s disappearance. There were three in total, sent to different dealerships each time. The first demanded a million dollars, the second was a warning that the drop location would be forwarded in twenty-four hours, and the last was basically just where to do so. I have PDF copies of the scans, all from the Russells’ private inboxes.

RottenDane> The letters didn’t give any clues though, as far as I can tell, and papers report that the money was left on the bench as instructed, but nobody came to get it.

RottenDane> This all happened over a week or so. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to anyone, JR’s abductor hadn’t been terribly thorough in searching him, and the kid was furiously sending messages from his iPod. The problem, of course, was that he only had the single stupid game that could connect to anything.

RottenDane> The notes he sent are sad. It starts off as mostly asking for help. He describes the place he’s in – there’s no light except the the screen’s, but he could tell he was in a little cement-block room with a heavy iron door. There was no inside knob.

RottenDane> As time went on, he had a few interactions with his jailer. Once a day the psycho would stomp down the flight of stairs beyond the exit with a huge bowl of instant Quaker oatmeal. He always wore a grinning white and red clown mask, but never talked.

Harrisment> Why didn’t ZachAttack see the messages?

RottenDane> Fox Blisters was a crappy game? Bad luck? They hadn’t played a turn in weeks, and, by the looks of the traffic, Zach dropped his iThing not long after the disappearance and his parents wouldn’t or couldn’t replace it.

Harrisment> Wait, you said “Pod” and not “Phone”, right? How did it make it onto the net?

RottenDane> That’s it – James Robert knew exactly who his captor was. I think the ransom fell apart when he finally just said the guy’s name outright, once his device’s battery died. See, JR wasn’t the alone in being raised sheltered – that is to say, the elder Russell brothers also had an incredibly strict upbringing.

RottenDane> James Robert Senior used it to launch into business and the local community, but Uncle Dwayne used it to lock his nephew in a basement for ransom money, and to send deeply intimate, but entirely unsolicited, emails to female members of online forums. It was in one of those confessionals that I learned how they were brought up – a lot of belt use for punishments, I guess, which morphed at some point into Dwayne’s obsession with leather and paddles and strapping ladies to painful things.

RottenDane> His credit card bills ran high with porn and kinky tools I doubt he’s ever had a chance to use on anyone. At least, not willingly.

RottenDane> JR knew that the silent clown was his uncle – he’d been to his house before, if not in the basement of horrors, and he already had the passkey to Dwayne’s wifi in his settings.

Harrisment> Jesus.

RottenDane> Yeah, but, listen: The stub – I think it was Dwayne. I think he was trying to figure out if it was possible to follow the breadcrumbs back to him. He must have spent a lot of hours over the years wondering about the secrets in that iPod.

4:59AM

RottenDane> So, uh, what do you think? Did I get it all? Any holes in my logic?

5:01AM

RottenDane> Hello?

5:02AM

Harrisment> I’m on the phone. Maybe grab a snack, I’ll be a bit.

Harrisment> If we’re gonna lose sleep over this, so is management.

Harrisment> Hell, if we’re quick enough about it, maybe so will Dwayne.

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Freesound.org credits:

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

- and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

FP305 – Machined: a Collective Detective Chronicle, Part 1 of 1

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and five.

Flash PulpTonight we present Machined: a Collective Detective Chronicle, Part 1 of 1

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by the The Hollywood Outsider.

 

Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.

Tonight we present a tale of digital detection and online exposure, of death, defeats, and endings.

 

Machined: a Collective Detective Chronicle

Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May

 

As she stepped forward, GoJo was feeling as if the auditorium had doubled in size since she’d shuffled through the backstage area.

She wasn’t used to wearing anything heavier than a t-shirt, and the suit jacket her mom had talked her into had brought on a sweat well before she was roasting beneath the theater lights.

Without thinking she put on the same fake smile she carried through family gatherings, but, when the familiar first slide flickered into view, the grin edged on genuine.

Skinner Co.“Hello,” she said, “my name is Josette Yates. I flew here from Michigan, but, like the rest of you, I’ve really come from the internet.”

Her delivery caught a few smirks, but the audience was generally silent.

”I’m part of The Collective Detective – do I have any fellow Editors out there? Any contributors?”

That raised some clapping, and a rear-row response that was garbled by the time it reached the stage.

She moved on, hoping it was something positive.

“Well, for those who aren’t so familiar: We’re researchers who use the mistakenly released archive of Internet traffic from the Bush-era tapping to look into unsolved crimes. We deal mainly in homicides, but there’s a small group of us who experiment in our spare time with looking for fraud.

“A hobby in our hobby, if you will.

“Sometimes we find things the police missed; sometimes we get lucky; most often, though, we come up empty handed.

The slides, which had gone from the proper spelling of her name to a vague structural chart of the organization, now stopped on a puffy-faced man. He might have been mistaken for a younger, plumper, Nicolas Cage.

“Do you know this guy?” she asked the crowd.

Several answers were shouted back, and she assumed one was correct.

“That’s right,” she continued, “it’s tech wonder Byron Newman – you may be familiar with his prolific social media updates, his savvy venture capital investments, his extensive complaints about poor design, or his surprisingly encouraging private correspondence – but, do you know THIS guy?”

Another puffy-faced man, bearded and mistakable as only perhaps a vagrant.

“This poor fella is Norris Barker, and at the time of the photo, he was caught up in a con game. Now, as I said, fraud isn’t really what the Collective focuses on. Murder is our business.

“Still, there are a few of us who like to dig through the archives with pattern matching software, just to see what we might stumble across. You’d be surprised how many former Nigerian ministers live in the US.

“In 2007, Norris was in love. He’d met a woman online, Sherry, who he spent hours exchanging emails, texts, tweets, and private moments with daily. She was a married woman, but her husband was a horrible sort. He was a systems administrator for the DMV, and always ready to leap to the keys to sooth her.”

The projected image shifted and a young Byron Newman filled the screen.

“Before I can explain 2007, though, I first have to go back to 1999. Our guru was three years out of university and full of ideas. Better yet, he’d managed to position himself on top of a mountain of cash, and was working with Big Thoughts Inc. in a converted Victorian house in San Francisco.

“He’d coaxed his small team into writing millions of lines of code, and he was well on his way to living his legendary no-sleep lifestyle.

“Six months later, though, the funding was gone – just as it was for every pie-in-the-sky project of the time.

“They did their best to license their technology to stay afloat. They’d built an advanced linguistics program, and they tried to cram it into being an automatic help agent for websites. You know, a box pops up with: ‘Hi, I’m Maria, how may I help you?’

”It would have been an easy task for the completed program, but the system hadn’t been designed to be dumbed down.

“They were all fired before it was finished.”

The presentation faded to a screenshot of the Wall Street Journal’s website pronouncing Big Think dead.

After allowing a beat to build dramatic tension, GoJo continued.

“Byron didn’t stop though. He saved a hard drive from the inevitable liquidation sale and brought it home, then started a race with his severance package.

“You can see his time disappear like a shadow in the logs. His porn browsing goes down, he stops searching for any sort of game walkthroughs, he even drops out of most of his forums, where he’d built up a reputation as something of a forward-thinking tech pundit.

“Two years later, with his benefits long gone and most of the things he owned sold, he’d covered a lot of distance. The problem, of course, is that at that point he also desperately needed more money.

“He’d been testing his work by launching instances and sending them into chatrooms. His early attempts weren’t terribly successful, but, by the time he was broke, he was consistently able to fool most reality TV fans. His program was not only capable of passing the Turing test, it had developed relationships and was continuing conversations based on snippets it was grabbing from news sites and other forums.

“Given his shut-in status, his application soon had more friends than he did. Byron had no one else to ask for money, but his code did. He started skewing his work towards grifting.

“This was no identity theft or one time Facebook con. He didn’t want a few hundred at a time, he needed thousands, perhaps millions, to properly complete his work.

“I came in not long after.”

A younger Josette appeared above the stage, though she wore the same fake smile. She was standing in front of a dilapidated country estate.

“Well, sort of. That’s actually me from just a year ago, after six months of investigating. You may notice that I look kind of spooked – that house felt haunted to me, even though I don’t believe in such a thing.

“See, when Newman started using his chat app to talk lonely folks on the internet into sending along money, traffic from his place suddenly increased ten fold. It’s a solid bit of coding, and most of the text it spits out is pretty original, but there was so much of it that duplication was inevitable, especially since most of the ploys were set up by Byron himself, and just the details changed from person to person.

“Tony’s ex-wife is a horrible woman and he needs money to feed himself because she took it all in alimony. Tammy’s a single mom with a naughty imagination and her kids need shoes. Martin’s Ma will be kicked from the home if he can’t pull together the monthly bill.

“That sort of thing.

“This is all from 2002 to 2007, but only uncovered eighteen months ago. We were hunting Nigerian ministers and came across two hundred and seventy-six battered Sherry-alikes. It seemed like a mass copy-and-replace job until we realized how much traffic he was pushing around.

“There was a hiccup in 2005, when Byron moved to the country, but it was easy enough to find him at his new nest – he was using twice as much bandwidth.”

The view flipped to an overhead satellite image of the sprawling grounds.

“In a case of literalism, Newman built a server farm on his farm and kept working. It’s hard to say how much of his time was invested in advancing his original idea, and how much was focused on squeezing cash from people, but the money continued to pour in. He did it in small bites, small enough that the bilked wouldn’t make a fuss, or even know they were anything but a good samaritan, but, in the end, Byron was maybe best described as a linguist and not a security guy.”

The image switched back to Norris Barker’s vagabond face.

“Barker, on the other hand, was. He was also, as I mentioned, in love. He probably thought he was confronting a vicious husband when he bought that gun – or perhaps he’d figured it all out. He posted nothing online that might give us a hint. It certainly must have seemed odd, though, that she’d gone through so much trouble to hide the source of her messages. Maybe he thought it was the brute’s work.

“The last thing he said to Sherry was in an email that read only, ‘I’m coming.’

“We know Byron Newman died August 25th, 2007, because Norris immediately punched a confession into his smartphone, explaining to his brother that he was planning to flee the country. That message was sent to a tower within a kilometer of the farm.

“We haven’t been able to find evidence of him since.

“What the broken-hearted murderer didn’t know, however, was that Newman had built the perfect alibi for him. Byron had long returned to his role of pervasive online tech guru, tweeting extensively, posting commentaries, and writing blog posts between rounds of spending stolen money.

“The problem was, he enjoyed the attention, but not the distraction. One day he simply split off a new instance of his program, named it after himself, and set it to keeping the world updated with his wit while he was blowing weekends in Vegas. Like everything he touched, it began to expand. It started handling all of the complex banking necessary to keep his assets hidden; it started paying the bills necessary to keep his lights on and the servers running; it started trolling Craigslist for local yard guys who accepted online payments.

“Twelve months ago we took our information to some scary guys in government-issued suits, and they promptly thanked us and showed us the door. A month after that, they came back and asked for our help figuring out what all had happened.

“Fifteen minutes ago, just before I took the stage, what we’ve begun to think of as Lord Byron’s Machine was taken offline.

The final image of the presentation appeared: A live shot of Newman’s last status update, hanging, twenty-minutes old, at the end of a stream of quick-fire chatter.

It read, “Can’t wait to see what Josette Yates’ secret TED announcement is.”

There was no follow up.

GoJo’s smile was fully real now, though it had taken on a hint of sadness.

She cleared her throat and said, “thank you for your time.”

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License.

Freesound.org credits:

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to comments@flashpulp.com – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

- and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

FP241 – The Strange Life and Death of Martha Mooney: a Collective Detective Chronicle, Part 1 of 1

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode two hundred and forty-one.

Flash PulpTonight we present, The Strange Life and Death of Martha Mooney: a Collective Detective Chronicle, Part 1 of 1.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Download MP3
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This week’s episodes are brought to you by Lifestyle Jazz.

 

Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.

Tonight, ElleBow, a member of the Collective, leads us into the past.

 

The Strange Life and Death of Martha Mooney: a Collective Detective Chronicle, Part 1 of 1

Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May

 

Flash PulpOn a rec room couch, in the depths of his parents’ basement, Kyle Kroc, KillerKrok, to his friends, was restlessly shaking his leg, and drumming on the worn brown cushions. Outside, a blazing June day went on without his approval. Despite his t-shirt, and his suggestion to the environmental controls that the suburban home ought to feel Antarctic, he was sweating. In truth, the sixteen-year-old had considered dressing up for the event, even though he didn’t have a video feed, but the heat had prevented him.

There was a blank screened laptop on the coffee table in front of him, but the black pair of headphones he was wearing were filled with the idle clamor of a half-dozen hotel suites and conference rooms. As he strained his ears, he could make out the echo of the speeches and announcements he’d muted on his own machine.

The headset had the ability to record, but he knew his clatter went unnoticed. He did not rate an open mic.

Although he was but an editor – an unpaid volunteer with the Collective – he considered the speaking on the call his employers. The board of directors had gathered to determine if their new public undertaking, despite careful consideration, could somehow damage the organization. All Kyle had discerned from their chatter, thus far, was that they felt the number of press people who’d accepted invitations and logged in was impressive, and raised the risk considerably.

It was well known throughout the hierarchy of contributors that the U.S. Government had never been pleased at the leaking of six years of complete Internet traffic records, and it was only the public’s own displeasure at having their activity snooped on, and then so carelessly divulged, which had kept the members of the Collective from being of interest to federal prosecutors. The group’s ability to solve otherwise forgotten crimes had gone a long way towards furthering that trust, and, now, the board hoped opening something akin to a digital museum tour might further boost that image.

The original idea had come from some forum newb, but Kyle had spearheaded the search for appropriate case studies, and he’d brainstormed many portions of the design document for the accompanying display. The tale of Martha and Samuel Mooney’s Facebook account had been one of the earliest proposed features, and, in his opinion, it remained the best of a strong collection.

His efforts had earned him the opportunity, alongside a dozen fellow editors, to be a ghost on the call.

Unknown to the board, however, KillerKrok had a more personal stake in the business: It was also the first day at a new job for his girlfriend of nearly two years, Eloise “ElleBow” Landry.

Their teenage passion for each other was rivaled only by their dedication to the archive, and, at her suggestion, he’d volunteered her name for the position. They’d both been pleased to learn those further up the food chain agreed she was a good choice.

The four continents, and seven rooms, worth of hushed commentary and insider questions came to a halt, and Kyle ceased his attempts at eavesdropping.

Elle’s avatar had appeared on his screen. The tour had begun.

It was a close, if cartoonish, match for her physical self, although her usual bobbed cut had become extravagantly spun into a web of hair. The boy wished he could be sitting at her kitchen table, watching her work the controls, but they’d agreed it wasn’t worth the risk to her bandwidth.

He adjusted the volume on the presentation, and pulled his laptop closer.

“- in March, of that year,” the electronic version of ElleBow was saying, in the clear, sweet, voice which had won her the job, “Martha and Samuel Mooney’s Facebook account was first activated.”

A square tile opened in the nothingness beside the girl, providing a visual representation of the website. In the upper corner, a white haired couple smiled into the camera. He was in a plain black t-shirt, and she in a blue hand-knit cardigan. They were both holding playing cards.

The guide raised her left arm, and another slate appeared, this time showing a poorly animated raptor being hand-fed by a pixelated rendering of an eccentric professor.

“Status updates were frequent, but the Mooney’s major preoccupation on the site seemed to be a casual game called Chrono Tender. C.T., as it was known to its fans, was a clone of other popular management simulations of the era. As the keeper of a time machine, it was your goal to harvest from a number of assets, while waiting out a clock to be allowed more moves.”

On the private line, one of the board members drawled, “you were right, Mel, about having someone younger than the audience doing the delivery.”

There were a few murmurs of agreement, but, to Kyle, most seemed focused on the presentation.

Elle stepped forward, and the action grew to fill the space behind her. The bespectacled time traveller mounted a cog-filled vehicle, found himself suddenly in the future, then deposited his recently obtained dinosaur eggs in a purple bin. Every click was a replica of movements made over a decade previous.

“As might be expected, the game encouraged group effort, and a large network of friends made obtaining bonuses considerably easier. Martha and Samuel became very social.”

Original designs for the project had called for a number of canned runthroughs of interesting happenings, but testing had found the content was much more compelling if displayed in an adaptable, organic fashion. The final result was the need for a guide with the skills of both a DJ, and a storyteller. As Elle demonstrated her mastery of each, Kyle could feel the tension easing from his shoulders. He stopped drumming.

The image backing Elle shattered into a kaleidoscope of views, each portraying encounters between the Mooney’s and a different player. Cracks formed, and the fragments subdivided into further meetings, until there were too many to differentiate, and all were too small to be seen. After a fade to black, only the narrator, and the square to her right, presenting the profile’s main page, remained. Though the smiling photo of the couple had not changed, the accompanying friend count was now hovering near five-thousand.

Without explanation, the girl opened a second frame on her left, which mirrored the size of the original. Instead of social interaction, the new display seemed preoccupied with highly-censored hardcore pornography and badly recorded war films.

Automatic filters applied distortion to the regularly-appearing graphic content, but there seemed to be – even to Kyle’s teenaged hormones – an unsettling amount of pink fuzz.

The grins on the right remained immobile as a time-lapsed flood of postings filled their page. Some asked after family and health, but most were requests for assistance with various game-related tasks.

The tour continued.

“After two months of compulsively maintaining acquaintance’s alternate universes, the Mooneys’ status updates took a dark turn. They spoke of a daughter addicted to meth, and of stolen possessions. Despite the betrayal, discussions defending her actions lasted for days.” Several improperly punctuated conversations came into view, hanging in the space above the representation of Elle’s head. Every thread seemed to end with a frowning emoticon. “Things grew worse. By July their car was missing, they’d been forced to hold off on filling Martha’s prescription for heart medicine, and pleas for prayer came regularly.”

Kyle had found himself so deeply engrossed in the explanation that he was startled when a new voice broke in over the feed. He’d missed the blinking signal indicating that one of the four hundred and sixty-seven other spectators was asking a question.

“Sorry to interrupt,” said a nasally disembodied male.

“It’s the Christian Science Monitor guy,” a director told the behind-the-scenes conference call. “Hopefully he’s not about to storm out because of the peep show on the left.”

Instead, the reporter asked, “were they spiritual?”

“A great question,” responded the web-haired girl, as the profile beside her pinched and widened to include a section inquiring after “Religious Views?”

The response was a capitalized YES.

In the opposing viewpane, John Rambo could be seen dispatching communists with gusto.

“If we move ahead another month,” Elle smoothly continued, “things have only grown worse. The Mooneys tell their friends that they are behind in mortgage payments for their house – that their access to the Internet, and the people they have come to love, will soon be lost. Within a week, though, the imminent disconnection was eclipsed by the announcement of the death, by overdose, of their daughter. Her loss was publicly lamented, as were the funeral costs – that is, when Martha and Samuel weren’t occupied selflessly saving Lincoln from assassination in other user’s Chrono Tender timelines.”

The profile picture flanking the girl changed, briefly, to an aged photo of a baby, and the accompanying comments were flooded with condolences. After a dramatic pause, to provide the audience an opportunity to read some of the deluge, the tale carried on.

“In December, Martha let slip that she’d been diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. Samuel took to alternating outbursts of agonizing about, then praising, his dying wife. At one point he reported that she’d disappeared to Canada, apparently in a haze of medication. Still car-less, Samuel supplied a series of postings regarding the chase from Internet cafes along the bus routes. The good news that he’d found his wife was dampened by the need to request assistance in paying to get her back home. Therapeutic bills mounted. Many offered help, and many prayed, but in early February, the account’s information was changed from married, to widowed.”

Krok could only remember the outline, but he was sure the original hadn’t included the line about prayer. He hoped the inquiring journalist appreciated it.

A fresh update appeared, which read, “I couldn’t even afford a proper headstone.”

The competing panels grew, as did the words, and soon Elle appeared to be standing with a rounded foot on each.

“The last item published,” she said, while pivoting between the conflicting visualizations, “was an email address to which online-banking donations could be sent.”

Many questions, and game requests, continued to fill the profile, but no response came from the remaining Mooney.

“Though a month went by in silence, a certain user, Vicki Chen, was not ready to move on. She’d become sympathetic to the elderly couple’s plight, both emotionally, and financially.

“You see, Vicki had been providing assistance throughout Martha and Samuel’s troubles.” A heartfelt letter came into view, with an accompanying link to a five-hundred dollar donation. “In fact, by mining the archives, we have the advantage of knowing many truths Ms. Chen, and the rest of the Mooney’s connections, could not.”

The non-illicit frame filled with an explosion of message boxes, each asking a variation of “how much do you need?”

“One truth is the sheer volume of money being sent, privately, to the ailing pair. To avoid embarrassment, it went unmentioned publicly, of course, so each Samaritan thought they were the lone kind soul.”

The missives were replaced with banking information – and a steadily growing balance.

“Another truth we know is just what the Mooney’s system was doing while not Chrono Tending. In fact, you’ve seen it, although as a somewhat, uh, restrained version.” She waved an arm behind her, where two fuzzes were vigorously interacting. “Chen, was a widow herself, living in a large home, and apparently wanted to locate Samuel with a proposal to keep a roof over his head. The private investigator she hired was considerably more pragmatic, though.” The split screen became a single view – a slide show of news sites whose headlines involved a PI by the name of Mulligan Smith. “He sent three ploys. The first was a promise of cash, personalized as Ms. Chen, if Samuel would provide a physical mailing address to which it could be sent. He received no reply. The second was essentially the same, but with a larger sum, and requiring only limited banking information. There was still no answer.

“For the third, the detective asked a favour from a former client who made a living in the porn industry. A generic-looking bit of promotional spam offering free access to a month’s worth of unlimited flesh, with credit card information used simply for age verification, was sent and accepted.

“Within a day the promo code had been used, and, an hour after that, Smith knew the identity of Calvin Sweet, A.K.A. Samuel Mooney, A.K.A. Martha Mooney, A.K.A. a twenty-year-old high school drop out with an instinct for lying and a history of small cons.

“Sweet spent a year in court, and five in jail, for his crimes.”

A grainy CNN web-video summarizing the conviction now dominated the screen behind Elle.

“This completes the first portion of our presentation,” she announced. “Is there anything you want to ask before we open up the next case?”

There was a pause, in which Kyle heard failure for the project, then the news people flooded the stream with questions.

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License.

Freesound.org credits:

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to skinner@skinner.fm, or the voicemail line at (206) 338-2792 – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

- and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

189 – Gag: a Collective Detective Chronicle, Part 1 of 1

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and eighty nine.

Flash PulpTonight we present, Gag: a Collective Detective Chronicle, Part 1 of 1.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Download MP3
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This week’s episodes are brought to you by Absolution

A Priest, a half-demon, and some Germans, walk into a bar – find out more at http://www.scrivenerscircle.com/

 

Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.

Tonight, the Collective Detective investigates the lonely tragedy that was the death of CuddleMonkey.

 

Flash Pulp 189 – Gag: a Collective Detective Chronicle, Part 1 of 1

Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May

 

On most occasions, KillerKrok, a six-month veteran of the Collective, would have considered hand-holding a newb through the basics a waste of time, but this was a special instance.

“CuddleMonkey got bigger,” said the blinking chat window at the corner of his desktop.

The evening previous, ElleBow, his girlfriend of two weeks, had shared the half-decade’s worth of results turned up from the massive archive of Internet activity, and her conclusion seemed a little self-evident to Krok.

“Kaitlyn Powell was eight when the records start, and thirteen when she died. She was growing right up until she keeled,” he said.

“Ha – no, Kyle, I mean her belly,” replied Elle from the comfort of her own bedroom, on the far side of the city.

Krok found it odd to have anyone involved with the group address him by his given name, but he was pleased to have found her intrigued by the project that absorbed so many of his weekends.

Still, he had yet to master conversational tact.

“Fattening up could be a sign of depression. My money remains on suicide.”

There was a pause in the conversation as both investigators flipped through the dead girl’s over-saturated MySpace photos. It was the second place they’d checked, after her inboxes.

After a time, Kyle decided he ought to get his protege back on track.

“We should probably start digging into Kaitlyn’s other traffic.”

“I’m actually browsing her Google history.”

He rubbed his chin.

“Anything interesting?”

“Well – someone at her family’s computer went searching for signs of pregnancy one July evening in 2005. She was at it for a couple of hours.”

The Powells were a five member family before the girl’s death, only one of which had been male.

Sipping at his Doctor Pepper, Krok wiggled his rolling chair in thought.

“Yeah,” he typed, “you’re probably right, she was probably preggers. Maybe she was scared enough about it to kill herself?”

Elle’s own theory quickly followed.

“What if she wanted to keep it and the boyfriend was pissed?”

“She was found dead in the woods with traces of oven cleaner in her gut.”

“They never found the cleaner, or her panties.”

“She might have been going commando, and she was rotting out there for two weeks, a lot could’ve happen in that time. They could have just missed the container, or she could have been alive for a while after and managed to stagger away from it.”

Kyle shrugged at the delay in response. He hustled upstairs to grab a bowl of chips.

“I’m sure the cops would love to believe the same, but they filed it as a homicide,” was waiting for him, upon his return.

The boy wiped Doritos-dust onto the hem of his Green Lantern t-shirt before responding.

“Yeah, but that’s basically all they ever tell us about cases, unless we ask nicely, and for a good reason – and even then, they mostly say no. When you’ve been a member of the Collective as long as I have, you’ll know that the five-oh aren’t perfect.”

“Uh huh,” she said. She’d included an emoticon with a protruding tongue at the end of her statement.

Two hours later, they stumbled across a Yahoo! Questions account created early on the morning of the girl’s disappearance, on an address associated with a laptop belonging to a friend of Kaitlyn’s.

The user had a single posting.

“I’M THIRTEEN AND I’M PREGNANT. I need a way to get an abortion. I love Jesus and I don’t want to and I’m sorry but I can’t tell my dad cuz he’ll whoop me to hell and I can’t go to a medical place because they want you to have your parents fill out papers. HELP PLEASE.”

The link had apparently been picked up by a forum of aggressive pro-lifers, and they’d come down hard on the girl. Most had simply told her not to do it, and that she should come clean with her parents – but there were those who went even further.

Thirty responses into the thread came a suggestion from MeanGene59: “Choke down a can of Easy-Off and all of your problems will be solved.”

After re-reading the comment twice, Krok said, “Maybe she was desperate enough to seriously believe it?”

ElleBow’s thoughts arrived almost simultaneously.

“She was in the woods because she was looking for privacy. She was anticipating a mess.”

Kyle drummed the palms of his hands against the desk’s edge as he read. Finally, he asked, “need any help submitting your findings?”

“Nah, I’m good.”

He sipped at the last of his soda, then returned to typing.

“There’s nothing more we can do for the moment, and I feel like I need to see living people for a bit. My brother was saying there’s a Midway in the mall parking lot – want to go hang out?”

“Absolutely. I’ll meet you there,” was her immediate reply.

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License.

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to skinner@skinner.fm, or the voicemail line at (206) 338-2792 – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

- and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

FP148 – Layers: a Collective Detective Chronicle, Part 3 of 3

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and forty-eight.

Flash Pulp

Tonight we present, Layers: a Collective Detective Chronicle, Part 3 of 3
(Part 1Part 2Part 3)

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by the Flash Pulp Facebook page.

It’s the only defense against the mind-worms, we assure you.

To join, click here!

 

Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.

Tonight, the Collective Detective learns of the truth behind the disappearance of Morris Cox, as revealed in a Floridian hotel room.

 

Flash Pulp 148 – Layers: a Collective Detective Chronicle, Part 3 of 3

Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May

 

Mel Chapelle, fifty-two, was sitting on his still-made hotel bed, eating a Mars bar. The television, on mute, threw the glow of local weather information into the room, but the flashing graphics went largely ignored as the lawyer thumbed at his phone to review the emails he’d had to leave unread during his recently concluded appointment.

The sit down, a meet and greet with local law enforcement regarding a grave the Collective had managed to track to a bit of rural swampland, had run long. Chapelle, who’d flown in from Washington for the conversation, was not a fan of the area’s humidity, or its tendency towards small talk, but he’d smiled, and rubbed at his neck with a Wendy’s napkin, while the Sheriff had chewed over the details of the case.

In the end, Mel had been forced to excuse himself, at the risk of missing his conference call. He’d originally hoped to locate a burger before the appointed time, but the trilling of his calendar program’s fifteen-minute-reminder had sent him scrambling for his hotel’s vending machine, and the quiet of his room. The temporary quiet, at least – wondering aloud how it was still so hot, mid-autumn, he’d had to crank the air conditioner as soon as he’d entered the fetid wall of moisture that seemed to hang in the rented space.

He was pecking out a response to the final item in question when his cell began to chime the opening theme to the old television show, The Six Million Dollar Man.

Rolling off the bed, he flicked the switch to disengage the AC’s rattling fan.

Setting himself back down, he hit answer.

“Hello.”

“Hi, Mel, it’s Tony. We’ve got you on the speaker phone – I’m here with Wes Willis, he’s the file’s Special Agent In Charge, and we’ve also got Carlos Reyes, who’s the missing boy’s local Sheriff. As usual, you should be aware that we’re being recorded.”

“Nice to hear from you, Tony,” Chappelle replied. It truly was, as the man was regularly a voice of reason amongst the bruised egos that the legal arm of the Collective Detective often came up against. “I assume, as I’m here solo, that this is largely a courtesy call?”

Willis muttered something away from the phone’s mic, that Mel was just as happy not to hear. The first time there had been trouble between the Collective and the government, there’d been no courtesy at all – just a knock at the door and a warrant. Then they’d carted away much of the server backbone that hosted the network’s online tools. The two year media-beating the overzealous raid had precipitated, as well as the eventual court ruling that provided the organization a lawful charter, had encouraged a more diplomatic approach. Chappelle, a former law professor, had changed his occupation, and his life, in deciding to assist in the defense of the case.

“Ha,” replied Tony, “Yeah, I think things are about wrapped up here, and we don’t need to drag in the dirty half-dozen, we just wanted to touch base.”

As the liaison spoke, the sweating former-teacher used one shoe to lever off the other, then nudged both to the floor.

“We certainly appreciate it,” he said, wondering what kind of madman would build a hotel in Florida that didn’t have windows that opened.

“I feel I should be clear at this time,” Willis’ voice rasped through the speaker, “that I am conducting this call under Anthony’s advisement. I must make plain, in case of any legal action resulting from this conversation, that I do not agree with providing details of ongoing investigations to civilians.”

The fatigue from his trip nearly caused Mel to point out the investigation was only ongoing due to the details provided by volunteer civilians.

Instead, he said, “Understood.”

It wasn’t the first time he’d dealt with Willis, nor even the first time he’d heard the disclaimer, but, in situations where the authorities weren’t demanding further documentation, or proof that the civilian researchers had done nothing untoward, Mel found it best to let the feds do the majority of the talking.

Carlos cleared his throat.

“Yeah, well, I don’t mind talking ‘bout it. Frankly, I’ve already done a few hours with the press on the subject, so I may as well tell you now, rather then send you off to have the facts misrepresented on CNN.com. I’ve never heard-a you folks till today, but I’ve got to say, I’ve also never had an arrest handed to me so neatly.”

Mel smiled, happy to have the unknown variable in the call swing in his favour. He tucked the big toe of his left foot into the cuff of his right sock and stripped the white cotton from his ankle, then repeated the process in reverse.

Reyes continued.

“Wasn’t tough to find Bailey Foster, your Google map was pretty spot on. I mean, we double checked, but – anyhow, I was the first through the door. There wasn’t much to it. Married guy, although him and his wife were the cold and quiet types. Don’t think she knew about it, actually. She struck me more as the kind not to get close enough to care. We let him watch us drag out his laptop, and a LOT of DVD binders, then we gave him a lift down to the room and started asking some very vague questions.

“Well, really we told him what you’d told us. Mentioned Morris Cox’s name, even flashed a couple of the more tasteful photos. He bought it all. Even told us where the body is buried. We’re gonna conduct a search at first-light, but I believe the confession.”

“Well done.” replied Mel. It was rare to achieve such a quick resolution, but, occasionally the results were sudden. “Did he give any further explanation? Any reason why?”

“Yeah. Love. The boy was growing up gay at a tough time and place. To hear Bailey tell it, his best-friend was a huge hater, put a real fear into the lad. At fourteen Morris fell for an older guy – thirty years older. It wasn’t a relationship, though, it was careful exploitation. When Cox turned eighteen and was still hounding the old perv to hold his hand – well, I guess Foster thought he’d outlived his allure, and didn’t dare risk the consequences of turning the boy loose.”

The rest of the call was made up of formalities and long winded quasi-threats by Willis that any interference with legal proceedings would bring a sudden bolt of justice from on-high. Mel simply bit his lip and murmured agreement, eager to reach for the thermostat.

When they’d finally parted ways, he swung his legs once again over the edge of the bed, and, his knees popping, stood. He turned the environmental controls to a level he hoped would be sub-arctic, then took a short stroll around the room, stretching.

It was tempting to return to the stack of printouts which required review before his morning meeting, but, once he’d worked the knots from his lower back, he instead tugged back the rigid wooden chair that had been provided for the room’s desk, and opened his MacBook.

Pulling up the Collective Detective website, he logged in as LegalEagle, and began filling in the final unknowns regarding the life, and death, of Morris Cox.

After an hour’s worth of typing and editing, he found there was nothing more to add.

Selecting the proper drop-down, he set the case’s status to “closed.”

He clicked save.

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License.

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to skinner@skinner.fm, or the voicemail line at (206) 338-2792 – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

- and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

FP147 – Layers: a Collective Detective Chronicle, Part 2 of 3

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and forty-seven.

Flash Pulp

Tonight we present, Layers: a Collective Detective Chronicle, Part 2 of 3
(Part 1Part 2Part 3)

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by the Flash Pulp Facebook page.

If home is where the heart is, then please consider the Flash Pulp page as your basement den.

To join, click here!

 

Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.

Tonight we return to the case of Morris Cox, a missing teen whose tale is being uncovered by the dedicated work of the men and women of the Collective Detective.

 

Flash Pulp 147 – Layers: a Collective Detective Chronicle, Part 2 of 3

Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May

 

Mike Donnell, thirty-five, woke suddenly from a brief nap, finding himself in the same chair he always occupied at 9:30, every Monday. Reaching for the brightly painted pencil-holder that his son, Theo, had given him when the boy was still only five, the tired office worker retrieved the dental mirror he kept on hand for just such situations. With steady fingers, he raised the device like a periscope, hoping to spot any lurkers who might have noticed his indiscretion. There were none.

Realizing he’d been holding his breath, he replaced the device amongst his collection of Bic pens, and punched his shift key to disengage the never-ending series of pipes that made up his screen-saver.

He hit refresh on his outlook.

He wiped some fluff off of his mouse’s laser.

He looked at the stack of medical documents he was supposed to be in the process of transcribing.

He decided it was a good time to get a fresh mug’s worth of coffee.

Before he stood, though, practiced habit brought him to open a new browser and direct it towards his true passion, the Collective Detective site. Logging in as GNDN, he was surprised to see a large red one – indicating a single major revision to be reviewed – awaiting him at the top of the page. Checking the date, he noted it was nearly two days old, and counted it as a personal travesty. He’d intended on checking in the day before, but Sunday dinner at the in-laws had run long and political, and he’d arrived home incapable of any greater brain-work than what might be necessary to stare at the Star Trek channel.

From the cubicle next to his own came an exclamation.

“Stinking clowns with their jumping monkeys!”

Vanessa, the woman who worked in the space which adjoined his own, was prone to loud, but never obscene, outbreaks. Donnell, now recalling what had awoken him from his snooze, thought he would mind less if she was better at her job.

He opted to get his coffee before digging into the new update.

It was tempting to moonwalk his way back to his cubicle, but he restrained himself. As an editor for the Collective, his greatest motivation lay in the surprises that lurked behind every new nuance that made up an article change. Most were minor; lists of known accounts, inconsequential biographical additions regarding the missing or murdered’s personal life, or details on associates. While all required at least a cursory editorial glance to ensure they were properly sourced and utilized the standardized format, encountering a modification deemed important enough to require confirmation as a major revision was rare. Despite the site’s constant reminders that inquiries should be treated with gravitas, such events usually made Mike feel like a kid on Christmas, about to unwrap a massive package from under the tree.

Settling into his creaking swivel chair, his joy was temporarily marred by another outcry from his office-neighbour.

“Sweet chili fries in a bucket of gravy!”

Squinting briefly, GNDN began reading the submission. The situation revolved around a lad by the name of Morris Cox, who’d gone missing and was presumed dead – all old information to the editor, who’d been keeping tabs on the case as one of the many he volunteered to oversee. A contributor, a fellow by the name of KillerKrok, had recently gotten serious with the investigation, opening several new secondary-articles, and doing much of the heavy lifting necessary in sorting through the years of wiretapped Internet traffic that the government had accidentally leaked to the public.

Skimming the details involving a best friend who’d eventually fallen away, and a love interest named Bailey, Donnell finally came to the highlighted information which he yearned for: Krok had discovered the password to an encrypted stream that Cox had used from a young age, until the month previous to his disappearance, but, for some reason, there were no further notes regarding the uncovered content. However, with the keyword, the name of Morris’ sweetheart, in mind, Mike collected up the required tools and began the decoding.

He’d managed to clear his desk of three of the medical forms before the decryption began to show results.

GNDN had spent the majority of his existence poking around the Internet, and was well acquainted with its tendencies. As such, his lifetime’s worth of assumptions found the first items to appear both familiar, and disappointing.

Donnell had seen similar images often; self-shot photos, taken using a bathroom mirror or with a single extended arm holding a cellphone camera, but, in this instance, all featured the missing in various states of undress. As the process worked itself backwards through the chronology of the portraits, Morris’ seemed to shrink in age, soon appearing not much older than Mike’s own son.

Attempting to shield his screen from the prying eyes of passers-by, he canceled the remainder of the conversion, and deleted the output. For legal reasons, it was rare to come across nudity within the context of the archives that made up the Collective’s backbone. Rather than be sued by any civilian who might find their name, and naughtiness, attached to a case, an algorithm usually stripped any excessively fleshy pictures from the publicly accessible portions of the site, making them only available upon special request, and after consideration by the council that made up the head of the distributed investigation effort.

Now that the hidden data had been uncovered, Mike knew he would have to elevate the offending portions so they might be properly contained. He re-opened the article for editing, and began to enter his conjecture.

“Pornographic content. Likely just the results of a teenage love-affair between Morris and Bailey.”

Even as he typed it, the feeling of something out of place tickled at the base of his skull. Before hitting send, he opened a second window and began to jump through Cox’s known information. The lack of detail regarding the boy’s paramour bothered him.

“Who are you?” Donnell muttered to himself, staring at the blank space in Bailey’s profile where a picture ought to be.

As he chewed away the excess nail on his right thumb, he had a moment of inspiration.

Restoring the content’s of his computer’s recycle bin, he squared his shoulders to block the view to his monitor, and began to rapidly flip through the bawdy images.

He bit the interior of his cheek as he realized his idea was confirmed. Although the boy had been free about uploading his snapshots, there were no returned favours from the elusive Bailey – an oddity for any hormonal teenage boy.

Fully abandoning the stack of paperwork which constituted his paid employment, GNDN cracked his fingers and began a furious trail of typing. The encrypted stream had been spoofed through a proxy, originally making it impossible to know where it had gone, but now that the secret had been broken, Mike was quick to follow up on the newly revealed IP address.

It was a long afternoon of tracking hunches and requesting data from the archive’s search engine, but, as closing time neared, and the cleaning staff began to move in to, as they quietly put it, swab out the monkey cages, Donnell found his answer.

The mysterious Bailey was no love-stricken teenage girl at the time of Cox’s disappearance – in fact, as GNDN stared at the gray-haired profile picture the man had posted on his infrequently trafficked blog, Mike guessed that the voyeur on the far-side of the illicit connection had been old enough to be Morris’ father.

“Big red monkey butts!” Vanessa shouted.

He could only agree.

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License.

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to skinner@skinner.fm, or the voicemail line at (206) 338-2792 – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

- and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

FP146 – Layers: a Collective Detective Chronicle, Part 1 of 3

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and forty-six.

Flash Pulp

Tonight we present, Layers: a Collective Detective Chronicle, Part 1 of 3
(Part 1Part 2Part 3)

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by the Ladies Pendragon.

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Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.

Tonight we find a contributor to the Collective Detective, KillerKrok, investigating a nearly forgotten life, as he also conducts major changes in his own.

 

Flash Pulp 146 – Layers: a Collective Detective Chronicle, Part 1 of 3

Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May

 

For Kyle, fourteen, summer was screaming to a close. He’d spent the last month dividing his energies between conquering an obscure series of Japanese role playing video-games, and contributing to the project known as the Collective Detective, both of which he’d been introduced to by his best-friend, Monty.

Although Monty’s love of Battle Passion One through Six still outpaced his own, the Collective had become Kyle’s great obsession. He’d already provided assistance on several occasions, including having sorted reams of posts for a case involving the suspicious disappearance of a member of a forum dedicated to Danish metal bands, and even turning up a nugget which had eventually lead the group to unearthing a girl who’d been buried, and forgotten, in a train yard.

Forty-eight hours before his first day as a ninth-grader, in a desperate bid to ignore the impending demands of school-life, he found himself rifling the site’s open projects. While flipping from wiki-page to wiki-page, he was brought to a halt on the case of Morris Cox, which had seen some activity, but few results. It was an attached Facebook photo which sold him: despite Cox’s smile, his eyes appeared hollow.

The notes were minimal; six years of traffic had been traced back to the case, which meant they had information on Morris from age twelve through eighteen, but the majority of it had gone unsorted, and the annotations seemed to indicate a lot of teenage nonsense, and little more.

Sitting in his basement bedroom, at the rickety white table his parents had provided to support the humming weight of the PC he’d purchased with his own funds, Kyle felt a kinship to that teenage nonsense. Reaching into the darkness beside the glow of his monitor, he retrieved his half-empty bottle of Mountain Dew and redirected his browser to the Collective’s main website. When prompted, he logged himself in as KillerKrok, then pulled up the primary tool of every member, the search page.

He initiated a trio of queries: a general trawl for all the logs related to Cox’s known IP addresses, a second seeking any mention of Morris’ name in his school library’s traffic, and a third inquiry looking for text messages involving the missing boy’s name, as no cellphones had been associated with his file.

Rubbing at the stringy patch of hair he’d been cultivating on his chin, Kyle considered his selections, then nodded.

Being only a lowly contributor, he knew it would be some time before his requests moved to the top of the heap to be processed, so he popped in Battle Passion Five, and cranked his Led Zeppelin soundtrack to the level he knew to be just below the cusp of his parents’ patience.

* * *

Three weeks of scrutiny had left the amateur detective feeling very familiar with Morris’ life, and yet little closer to discovering the key to his disappearance.

School, and thoughts of Elle Landry, had taken heavy tolls on the amount of time Kyle had to dedicate to the project, but he found the investigation considerably preferable to algebra homework, and often spent his days, and notebook pages, sketching out speculative webs of accusation instead of focusing on essays regarding Hamlet.

He had a single tantalizing clue, an unidentified encrypted application which the lost boy had starting using regularly at fifteen. Although the Collective could provide the raw data of what was transferred, and could even give basic information on how it was concealed, it had no method to circumvent the password behind which it was hidden. Krok had easy access to the necessary tools to make the translation, but without the missing phrase, they were useless. Still, while watching reruns of the newest re-imagining of SpongeBob SquarePants, he’d spent the better part of a Saturday guessing at any possibility that might have come to Morris, including the details the unaccounted-for-youth had used on other services, character names from his favourite films, and random combinations of his own moniker and birth-date.

The cast of people involved in Morris’ communications had fluctuated from year to year, but their wiki entries had grown under Kyle’s nurturing, and now included a positive identification for a best-friend from the age of twelve till a messy falling out at seventeen, as well as the entrance of Bailey, the case’s first, and only obvious, love interest. In getting to know the major players through the digital fingerprints they’d left, the sleuth had also begun to see connections from Cox’s life within his own. Although he’d vanished at eighteen, it was at the age of fourteen – KillerKrok’s – that the seeds of dissension between the missing, and his compatriot, had been planted, and, as puppy-love mentions of Bailey, largely in anonymous forums, increased, their comradery had decreased. Oddly, however, the apparent girlfriend never seemed to be discussed.

The ninth-grader was considering the point when his phone rang.

“Hey,” said Monty.

“Hola,” Kyle replied.

“Still smacking the dead pony?”

“Yeah, I’m sure this encrypted stuff is the answer.”

“Uh huh. You’re gonna get that thing opened up and it’ll be nothing but his porn collection.”

“It’s funny you say that, because the data transfer would be about right, but, I dunno, could be a bunch of audio recordings discussing his Colombian drug deals.” On a whim, Kyle tried “Colombian” as the password. He was greeted with the familiar failure warning.

“Have you ever seen him say anything in Spanish?” asked Monty.

“No.”

“Uh huh. Anyhow, what you up to tonight? Forget whatever it was, guess who just got a hold of his imported copy of Battle Passion Seven?”

Kyle cleared his throat, mousing down to his desktop’s clock before replying. Seeing the late hour, his palms suddenly began to run with moisture.

“Nah, listen, I actually need to go, uh, help my Mom with something, but I think I’m going to just spend the night cracking this thing – I’m right on the verge, I can feel it. Start without me and I’ll catch up with you tomorrow or something.”

Morris made his goodbyes with a note of dejection, but the fourteen-year-old had little time for consideration of his friend. Leaving his keyboard to blink endlessly on the empty password field, he ran to the shower.

It was while shaving off his ratty facial growth that the solution came to him, and he called himself an idiot, aloud, for not having tried it earlier. With his face still covered in unnecessary shaving cream, he ran to his machine and triumphantly typed: “Bailey”.

There was a pause, then a progress bar appeared. It began to count upwards.

With a holler, Kyle moved into a stomping dance. After a moment, however, he caught the time on the PVR’s digital display, and quickly scooped up the rogue foam on the carpet. Hovering over his computer, he submitted the case revision in a rush.

The movie started in an hour, and he didn’t want to leave Elle waiting.

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License.

Text and audio commentaries can be sent to skinner@skinner.fm, or the voicemail line at (206) 338-2792 – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

- and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

Flash Pulp 128 – The Absent Idol: a Collective Detective Chronicle, Part 1 of 1

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and twenty-eight.

Flash Pulp

Tonight we present The Absent Idol: a Collective Detective Chronicle, Part 1 of 1

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Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.

Tonight, the Collective Detective finds itself investigating the loss of an Internet icon.

 

Flash Pulp 128 – The Absent Idol: a Collective Detective Chronicle, Part 1 of 1

Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May

 

The 2nd of January

Welcomebot: Welcome To #CD-Chat, Harrisment!

FrameScalpel: I’m not saying most of her fans were following her for the right reason, but, honestly, her ability to cut clips in a way that fit her music was fantastic. She was like a combination of Thelonious Monk’s sense of timing, and Banksy’s sense of humorous visuals with a message.

MitchSlap: – and there was also her overdeveloped rack.

Harrisment: Stick it, Welcomebot.

Frame Scalpel: Hey Harris. Just explaining to MitchSlap why IdolChan was so great.

Harrisment: I was kind of under the impression it was the amount of cleavage she showed in her video blogging.

FrameScalpel: Screw you guys.

Harrisment: Ha, kidding, kidding. Lady like that wouldn’t continue to have the following she does if she hadn’t had some talent.

MitchSlap: I’m sticking with my theory that she’s actually a fake personality Spike Jonze used, but, seriously, at this point don’t you think the only reason anyone remembers her is because of the mystique of her disappearance?

FrameScalpel: No.

Harrisment: I do think that’s part of it, but Scalps has a point. She’s still the person I start throwing out links to when I find someone who’s under the impression that the vidder-community is all crappy dance music layered over badly edited anime-clips.

FrameScalpel: WTF

Harrisment: Hah – I don’t mean YOUR badly edited anime-clips.

FrameScalpel: …

Harrisment: Joking. You know I’m a fan of your work.

MitchSlap: Whatever – how far into your search have you gotten?

FrameScalpel: Well, I’ve been through all of her email addresses, her twitter account, and her Facebook communications. She had thousands of followers, and chatted with nearly anyone who’d send her something, but everything was routed through an encrypted anonymizer service, which I have yet to break, and I can’t find a single message that I can trace back to a meat-space friend. I still have no leads as to who she really was.

Harrisment: Well, don’t take it too hard, if you did know who she was, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. I’m between tasks at the moment, I can lend you a hand, if you’d like?

FrameScalpel: Sure, I’d appreciate it.

MitchSlap: Well, if you ladies are going to spin your wheels on this, I may as well crack the case for you. Send me what you’ve got.

* * *

The 5th of January

To: framescalpel@thecollectivedetective.com
From: harrisment@thecollectivedetective.com
Subject: IdolChan Clue

Hey,

I think I may have found something. I was watching video #23 – the one in the park? – and I finally caught a break: there’s a moment where she’s busy talking about how little respect she gets from idiots on youtube, and a guy with a dog jogs by. She mentions how cute the mutt is at 2:36, then she swings her phone around to record its passing.

If you look closely, you can catch a glimpse of the city skyline over top of the trees. I know you were thinking she was from New York, because of her accent, but that’s totally the Transamerica Pyramid – she’s got to be from San Francisco!

You weren’t around in the channel, so I passed the info onto Mitch. He seemed to think he could make some use of it, although, of course, he wants to play king and keep his hunches to himself. Still, who knows, that tool might come up with the next piece. I’m going to see if I can figure out which park she was recording in – the timestamp says it was around lunch on a Tuesday, maybe it’s somewhere near where she was attending school?

I feel like we’re getting close.

Harris

* * *

The 8th of January

To: harrisment@thecollectivedetective.com; mitchslap@thecollectivedetective.com
From: framescalpel@thecollectivedetective.com
Subject: Just Got Back

Hi, sorry about taking so long to reply.

First the greyhound was late getting into San Fran, then I had to figure out the stupid local transit. Five hours on a bus had me cranky, and maybe a bit confused, and I accidentally got on the wrong trolley.

After I finally got everything figured out, I had to walk another half-hour to her house. It looks a lot like the street view, but it seemed bigger, and a little more run down, in real life.

I’d imagined a lot of possibilities before I knocked on the door – I mean, it’s been years since IdolChan’s last video, so she’d be in her late twenties now – but the old woman who answered wasn’t what I’d expected.

I knew the address was right, I’d been staring at it long enough to have it permanently burnt into my brain, but all I could come up with when the lady answered the door was “Hi, is Lara here?” and she says “Speaking.”

I nearly fell over – but the woman had IdolChan’s eyes, and it was then that I realized that she must have been named after her mom.

We talked, and I explained about the search, and how Mitch had plowed through reams of yearbooks to find her. That’s when I started cluing in to how little Mrs. Dunning knew about the level of fame her daughter had, and has, online.

Even after my story, I’m not sure that she really got it.

Actually, at first she seemed pretty weirded out by my even being there, but, once she realized I wasn’t some crazy from the Internet, she wanted to talk about things. Eventually she showed me around the house.

The last room she brought me to was Lara’s.

It’s a time capsule, really – it’s got all these stuffed kittens on the bed. I admit, we both ended up crying.

The theories are wrong. She wasn’t Spike Jonze in disguise, she wasn’t killed in a car accident, she wasn’t kidnapped, and she wasn’t hired away by MTV to do video production.

Mrs. Dunning explained to me that she’d been sad for a long time after the move from Brooklyn, that she’d never really made any friends once they’d re-located – that she was lonely.

On her 18th birthday, with her ‘net down, and leaving only a short, soggy, note for her mom, she grabbed a bus and jumped from the Golden Gate.

After a while, we both dried up, and I just kind of drifted out the door. As she said good bye, Mrs. Dunning seemed to take a little comfort in the fact that, online, IdolChan’s legend lives on.

I’m going home now, but, if it’s all the same to you guys, I’d like to leave this case open indefinitely.

FS

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License. Text and audio commentaries can be sent to skinner@skinner.fm, or the voicemail line at (206) 338-2792 – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

- and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.

Flash Pulp 123 – Moving Parts: a Collective Detective Chronicle, Part 1 of 1

Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and twenty-three.

Flash Pulp

Tonight we present, Moving Parts: a Collective Detective Chronicle, Part 1 of 1

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

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This week’s episodes are brought to you by the free audio-novella, Boiling Point.

Find out more at http://neilcolquhoun.com

 

Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.

Tonight, the Collective Detective attempts to pick a murderer from amongst a mob.

 

Flash Pulp 123 – Moving Parts: a Collective Detective Chronicle, Part 1 of 1

Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May

 

“The six month period before the last date tracked in the trio of archives that acts as the backbone of the Collective Detective is basically considered the edge of the world by most contributors.”

Mitch straightened his tie.

“A lot of members of the collective hate working edge-cases, which is probably why I love them. The way some of those guys act, you’d think the ‘net ceased to exist once the NSA stopped tapping everything in 2008, but really its just that they’d rather not do the kind of legwork necessary to track something that went over the line – you know, joining forums, following blogs, trawling news sites.

“It really means that there’s plenty of leads in that period that are actually pretty easy pickings; things that go un-looked into just because of their vintage.”

The lawyer nodded, coaxing him to continue.

“That’s how I came to open the file on Jesse Barber.

“I was looking over the stubs – the list of cold cases that could do with some poking at – and noticed something about a furry who’d been stabbed to death in a parking lot. Now, I’m no naughty mascot myself, but I’ve always had quite a bit of sympathy for those folks. I truly believe that someday we’ll do away with racism and bigotry, but I’m also fairly sure we’ll never get to a point where we’ll tolerate a man in a raccoon costume dining in a high-end restaurant.

“Anyhow, he’d been at a meet-up with other suiters, outside a comic convention, when it happened. I know they have a bit of a bad reputation, but everything we dug up said it was nothing seedy, just a networking thing for other local people with a similar interest, and an opportunity to freak out a bunch of Burger King employees when they finally got hungry.

“My first step was to open a thread regarding all of the Facebookers who’d RSVP’d, and the contributors started nibbling at the list to see if there was any previous connection between the attendees and the deceased.

“Next, I tapped Cameron Wallace and Rory Cummings – uh, BallsToTheWallace, and Kid Icarus, to give me a hand with Jesse’s personal emails. Every editor has a style of working, I prefer to keep the juicer stuff close to home, even if it means a lot of tedious shuffling and sorting. I work with Balls pretty regularly; our timezones are just off enough that he can pick things up when I pass out. I’d never interacted with Icarus before, though, I’d just seen his editorial status set to inquisitive, which means he was interested in being assigned some work. His ratings were high, and I thought the fact that he lived in Seattle, like the victim, would be handy.

“The police had already been over the posting on Craigslist announcing the anti-furry NERF-bat flash mob, and we discovered that at the time it went live, it started quite a bit of debate on a bunch of blogs. Most of the furries on site knew there might be a problem, which meant cellphone cameras were out in force. My first job for Icarus was to get a posse together to locate any clips he could find, and to start a catalogue of the faces in the crowd.

“Then I got Balls on looking for secondaries – basically other accounts a user might have been logging on with. People can connect from anywhere; home, libraries, coffee shops, work; and you’ve got to try and back track it all to get the full picture. Sometimes a guy has a wife he doesn’t want accidentally stumbling onto the Hotmail inbox he’s using for the Tranny-Love mailing list, so he only checks it on his laptop, or sometimes its simply that a person only converses with a friend while at work – which is exactly what happened in this case.

“In the mean time, I was attempting to run down those who’d replied to the original listing on Craigslist, hoping to spot somebody with enough hate to want to kill a stranger. The police investigation had decided that it was probably someone in the mob – someone not content to stop at beating the pseudo-animals with fuzzy bats, and that seemed like a pretty logical line of thinking to me.

“I got nowhere fast though – I realized pretty quickly that way more people had shown up at the event than had responded, and I couldn’t find anyone bragging about anything unusual. Icarus was having just as little luck – cell-video still sucked pretty hard in 2004. The only one making progress was Balls, who’d discovered that Mr Barber was very careful about keeping his identity as Kip Hamsterton separate from his life as Jesse the tech guy. Hamsterton had his own set of email addresses, and a pretty large establishment in a virtual world called Second Life, and Barber had a one bedroom apartment and an overprotective mom.”

Mitch licked his lips and rubbed his scruffy goatee.

“We all switched over to letter sorting, and that’s when we found it: Jesse had had a fling at work, with an accountant whose laptop he’d repaired. It had ended abruptly, but even after he’d blocked Margie Feldstead’s address and stopped replying, she’d been sending him vicious emails calling him a perverted monstrosity. It was obvious what had happened – their first emails were full of puppy love, but sometime on or around the 12th, three months into the relationship and a week before his murder, everything had changed. He’d fallen deeply for her, despite her crazy notions about the government, and he’d probably thought that, if he could accept her nuttiness, she could surely accept his.

“We opened the thread regarding Jesse’s correspondence to contributor assistance, and the three of us started plowing into everything Margie-related that we could locate.

“I can sympathize with a guy like Jesse, but Margie was nothing but a closet crazy. She spent a lot of time in the dark corners of the Internet, where anything bad that happens is somehow the result of a Jewish world order conspiracy or an act of Satan. Within twenty-four hours of finding out about Kip, she’d ordered a ballistic knife from a place in Florida. They were supposed to be against the law, but I guess it was sort of semi-legal to sell the hilt and blade as a package, and the spring that did the shooting as a separate item. For the next few days her Google searches from home were entirely obsessed with the Seattle furry community, and when she found out about the flash mob posting, she had her excuse.

“When we came across the confirmation email with the receipt for the knife, I figured that was it. Still, you get into weird legal grounds any time you pull a case out of the archives, so I did what we’re supposed to do when we think we’ve got one in the can: I tagged it for review by the council; the suits over top of the editors who run all the corporate and legal stuff. It can take hours, or even days, to get a response, and, then, it’s usually just to confirm that they’ve called the police, and to thank you for a job well done.

“I don’t know why Cummings – Icarus – didn’t wait to hear the outcome. We don’t often get to see the perp though, except in the occasional news clip, and he must have been riding the adrenaline rush of having cracked the truth. Whatever the case, it’s obvious the intervening years haven’t been too kind to Margie’s stability. Lord knows how a woman in that state manages to get a hold of a handgun.”

From the behind the defense table, the accused, hardened by the time since the death of Jesse Cummings, attempted to lay Mitch low with her glare.

“That will be all,” said the lawyer.

The judge thanked him for his testimony, and the editor vacated the stand.

 

Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm, and is released under the Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License. Text and audio commentaries can be sent to skinner@skinner.fm, or the voicemail line at (206) 338-2792 – but be aware that it may appear in the FlashCast.

- and thanks to you, for reading. If you enjoyed the story, tell your friends.