Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and sixteen.
Tonight we present Under Wraps: a Collective Detective Chronicle, Part 1 of 1
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
Private Chat Opened.
RottenDane> You up?
RottenDane> I’m going to call if you don’t answer in 5 minutes.
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.
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.
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.
RottenDane> So, uh, what do you think? Did I get it all? Any holes in my logic?
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.
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