Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and twenty-three.
Tonight we present, Moving Parts: a Collective Detective Chronicle, Part 1 of 1
This week’s episodes are brought to you by the free audio-novella, Boiling Point.
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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 attempts to pick a murderer from amongst a mob.
Flash Pulp 123 – Moving Parts: a Collective Detective Chronicle, Part 1 of 1
“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.
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