John shot a gimlet gaze heavenward, eyeballing the gibbous
moon shining through the barred window above his bed. Nice moon, he
thought, and to think that we humans had once ventured there! The
psychotropics coursing through his body encouraged him to dwell on this
magnificent thought for a while as his eyes drifted back out of focus
and his mind danced along the border of consciousness.
Ow, how his body ached!
And then he remembered. He had succeeded in giving a highly satisfying
shellacking to that lunkhead Gerry. Using a squash stroke that would
have made an excellent volley kill, he bonked the crusty old dolt
upside his head. But he didn’t stop there. Oh, no sir. As Gerry stood
dazed by this attack, John then used the squash racket in his hand as
an epee, pointing it at Gerry’s bewildered face and stabbing it at his
rather large proboscis. When Gerry bent low to fend off the continued
assault, John kneed him full force in the stomach, and down he went.
John, that is, not Gerry, because the dullard Frank, still lumbering
around the club pretending to do odd jobs while trying to avoid killing
people, had seen the commotion, and in a sudden upwelling of
long-dormant athleticism tackled John with a flying leap that sent
John’s head smacking to the ground, knocking him well and truly out.
Someone called the cops, and by the time the ugly mess was sorted out,
Gerry was sent home with a bit of acetaminophen, Frank was lauded by
the cops for potentially stopping a homicide, and John was carted back
to the psych facility, where he was isolated and dosed up with calming
The admitting psychiatrist, Dr. Abdel Funk, surmised that John, who not
too long ago had tried to do himself harm, had now transferred the
focus of his enmity to others, and by so doing had become a threat to
society. Dr. Funk, an unapologetic proponent of pharmacologic
intervention, concocted a mind-numbing stew of psychotropics for John’s
benefit in the rather unscientific hope that one of them might possibly
help his patient. He started with an antipsychotic, for signs of mania,
and then added a newer atypical antipsychotic for good measure. He
threw in a tricyclic, since there were clearly signs of depression, and
thought, what the hell, he seems anxious, let’s dose him up with an
anxiolytic. And even though obsessionality didn’t seem to be too
prevalent, he also wrote a prescription for an anti-obsessive agent,
mostly because the pharmaceutical rep who regularly visits his office
had promised him an iPad if he wrote a certain number of scripts this
quarter. He was damn close.
The next day, in the quiet of the morning, Dr. Funk visited John, whose
head was buzzing from the drug cocktail and whose resultant lethargy
was reminiscent of a heroin addict’s overwhelming lassitude. The good
Dr. Funk introduced himself and explained the drug regimen to his
unwilling guest: “I’ve prescribed a few drugs for you that will make
you more calm and allow you to rest and recover from the mental
perturbation you have lately undergone,” he said, smiling winningly.
“Fuck you, Funk,” John said, slurring his words, while still managing
an unmistakable hint of conviction. With that, Dr. Funk exited the room
and wrote in John’s chart: “Patient shows continued aggression and
clear tendencies to violence. Increase all script doses up 10 mg.”
The next day, burdened by a brain that seemed more cotton ball than
functioning intellectual center, he was wheeled into the day room,
where the other patients were assembled. A TV was on, but few had the
wherewithal to watch. Most were perseverative and quiet islands of
dysfunction, with the exception of a fellow named Rodney, who felt no
shame in enthusiastically masturbating in a corner, and a guy named
Suzy – well, that’s what he insisted his name was, anyway – who carried
on a rather interesting conversation with his good buddy, God. This
proved fascinating for John, who listened in as intently as his
condition allowed, and became more interested as the conversation went
on because, he had to admit, he never truly believed in Him, and here
He was talking to Suzy. Wow, I wonder if He might talk to me too? John
asked Suzy to perhaps provide an introduction, but the latter violently
explained that he was the son of God and the Father only talks to him!
Suzy was led away gently by the staff, in restraints, shouting godly
It might have been a day or two later, or maybe three, but the good Dr.
Funk eventually arrived in John’s room to inspect his case. “John, how
are you feeling? I know you have been angry lately, but I’m hoping
you’ve been able to relax a bit and enter into a calmer state.”
“Funk you, fuck,” John slurred, and dropped his head back onto his pillow.
Wow, thought the good Dr. Funk, he’s one tough nut, as crazy as a hoot
owl. “Titrate all meds up 10 mg more,” he wrote in the chart.
Does time really heal all wounds? Nah, highly doubtful, but the near
coma that had been prescribed to John eventually allowed Dr. Funk to
loosen his pharmaceutical straightjacket in the belief that John’s
vacant stare indicated resurgent calm. The drug regimen was eased to
the point where John was able to crawl out of the cobwebs that had
entombed him and rejoin sentient society. He asked for a newspaper,
started fretting about his fractured family, and thought about that
glorious day when he could leave the hospital.
Before that day arrived, however, he received a visitor, the first since his incarceration.
“Hiya, John Smith, sorry to interrupt you, but I’m working with Angus Murray and…”
John was confused. “Who the hell is Angus Murray? And who are you?”
“Me? I’m Bianca. Bianca Phipps. I was hired by Angus, you remember him,
don’t you? He’s the private dick that’s out looking for Jessica.”
“What?! Is this sexual?”
“No, no…. I know you’re tired….” She rolled her eyes. “Your wife Jill
has got a private eye looking for Jessica. The dick thing is American
slang. You do remember Jessica, don’t you?” she asked doubtfully.
Oh yeah, now I remember, thought John. That expensive private eye that
Jill’s rich boyfriend hired, and who has done nothing as far as he
could tell. “Yeah, I remember,” John said, readjusting his butt in his
chair. “Okay, I got it, sorry… But who are you?”
“Well, as of just recently I’m Angus’ assistant. I met him 10 days ago
when he came to Massachusetts to follow-up a hot lead in the case. It
seems that your son, Sam, got a call at the Aullt Academy from his
sister. She seemed frantic. The school notified the local police, a guy
named Hack Thomas. I worked at the town paper and made it a habit of
bugging Hack to drum up local stories. So when Angus arrived the next
day, I was there and listened in on the conversation.”
John stared at this Bianca girl. She seemed awfully young, and the
streak of red hair and nose ring did not give the greatest impression.
Plus there was a large tattoo of indeterminate design around the
stylized words, “Girls Rock.” John decided not to mention that. “So how
did you get involved?” he asked.
“Well, as I was listening in, it became apparent that they would not be
able to trace the call, so other than the fact that she told her
brother she was in New York and was undeniably alive, not much else was
learned. Hack and Angus seemed stumped. But I chimed in with a few
“I figured that the best way to trace her would be through some kind of
social media, so I suggested a full-on trolling of Twitter and Facebook
for starters. For whatever reason people just can’t shut the hell up
nowadays, so whenever something interesting happens they throw it out
into the universe for all to see. I thought we might be able to trace
an IP address if we could find something, and Hack said it’s possible
to get a court order to force either company to reveal specific user
information if a crime has been suspected. And in this case, a crime is
suspected, since according to Sam she appeared to be held under duress.”
“Really…? Poor Jessica, and poor Sam.”
“Angus liked my ideas and hired me on the spot, and I and a friend hit
the social media world full time. We’ve been tweeting and facebooking
for a solid week now. Honestly, I thought I’d puke. The idea was to
focus on squash and fashion, because those seemed to be the two things
your daughter was most interested in. Would you agree?”
“Yeah, I guess so. You might throw boys in that mix, but those are good choices.”
“Well, we think we might have a lead, so that’s the good news. But
Angus wanted me to come here and ask you personally, Why do you think
your daughter would want to run away?”
“Run away? I thought you said she was under duress. Doesn’t that mean she was abducted?”
“No. Our feeling is that she went willingly, but whoever she went with
may now either be holding her against her will or at least making it
hard for her to return.”
John blinked. The cotton balls in his brain were not entirely gone. “I don’t understand….”
“I’ll explain as best I can. But first, any guess as to why she would run away?”
“No, not at all. She was a happy kid. A little high-strung, of course.
They say redheads are born that way. She complained a lot, but nothing
major, just the usual griping about this and that that kids all do. She
was very motivated in her sport, but that could lead to trouble from
time to time, since she could get angry in matches and act like a brat.
But no, all in all, she seemed fine to me.”
“And her relationship with you?”
“Fine. Not a problem, and she got along perfectly well with her twin Sam.”
“And her mother?”
“Well, I think all in all pretty good. There was perhaps a little
friction there. Jill got on her case pretty heavily from time to time
about how she dressed, her occasionally bratty behavior, her obsession
with her cell phone, stuff like that. Mothers and daughters can attack
one another like feral cats from time to time, that’s part of the deal.”
“Man, don’t I know it. But go on.”
“And for her part, Jessica had started complaining a fair amount about
how we were never around, always at the club, she said. The ‘club from
fucking hell’ is what she called it – so did I, for that matter. She
loved her squash, but she emphatically did not like our involvement in
the squash club. Didn’t like having mom and dad hanging around her all
the time while she played her matches, either.”
“Ah, I see,” said Bianca. “So do you think it is possible that growing
friction with her mother plus the stress of club ownership might have
pushed this young girl to do something as drastic as running away?
Keeping in mind the hormonal rush of the early teen years; the
hyperfocus on friends and appearances; the inability to think things
through beyond the most immediate of gratifications; the possibility
that she met, quite likely online, someone whose life and looks so
overwhelmed her that she decided to take the leap….”
John thought about it a moment. The truth was that Jessica was very voluble. Yes, he realized, it was possible.
back in the U.S., Angus had returned to Massachusetts where he was
staying at Hack’s house, which had become their center of operations.
He had been to New York City and had spoken to the NYPD’s cybercrimes
unit. They had reviewed Bianca’s findings with the sergeant there who
had agreed that, yes, they might have something. To go ahead, however,
they had to get the court to force Twitter and Facebook to reveal
identities that they normally would not wish to reveal. That would take
money, and not a little time.
But Angus solved that problem with a call to his employer, Steve Dwyer.
Steve’s extensive business holdings in the U.S. had made him quite a
few contacts and his money seemed limitless. Steve said he would get
his lawyers working on an emergency injunction immediately, and to sit
tight back in Massachusetts awaiting instructions.
Angus could sit tight with the best of them. Particularly in the
company of a very good Scottish single malt whisky. He had developed an
abiding interest in the Speyside whisky brands, including Cragganmore,
Fettercairn, Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, Mortlach, and Speyburn. Mmmm. And
Hack was a good man to hang out with.
Angus poured a few fingerfuls, no ice, and sat back on Hack’s couch.
“Hack, we’ve not much to do now, have we? We’ll have to hope and pray
the damn lawyers can pull through on this one.”
Hack nodded. “True. And that’s what worries me.”
“Well, I’m sure Dwyer’s got some good ones.”
“Are there good ones then? Was unaware of that fact.”
“Hah, that’s funny, Hack. Have a bit of me Speyside, will ye?”
Hack didn’t just then, but against the onslaught of Angus’
whisky-fueled bonhomie, he broke down eventually. And so it was that
eight years of sober living went glug-glug.
Back at the sanitarium, John stared at Bianca. “So you think she went
willingly, but something’s gone wrong with the plan and now she’s being
held against her will?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“You started by saying you had a lead. What is it?”
“Well, in order to track someone on social media, you really have to
know them. We brought in Sam and had extensive interviews with him
about her interests, how she acted, what internet sites she frequented,
how she talked and wrote, that kind of thing. We had a ton of data. We
quickly realized that the fashion world was too big and with minimal
time we would be better off focusing on squash, so that’s what we did.
Anything and everything about squash, we saw. Nothing seemed to click,
but then a few days ago we had a tweet and a Facebook posting that told
us something. Check these out.”
Bianca passed two papers over to John with a big, American, perfectly
white and nicely orthodontured smile. “The breakthrough boils down to
one word: Weetabix. See, this is a tweet from someone named ‘Alexivan’,
who says: ‘My secret weetabix girl played a hard match and rocked.
Maybe, if she’s good, we’ll reveal her to the world!’ And then here’s a
Facebook page, owned by the anonymous ‘Asquashpro,’ who said this: ‘Had
a good workout today with a talented client whose squash gets better
and better. She is a fiery competitor, fueled by great squash instincts
and her favorite food, weetabix. She’s ready for top competition.’
Well, we did our research, and those IP addresses are coming from the
New York area. And Weetabix, your daughter’s favorite whole wheat
biscuit cereal treat, is not at all common in those parts. We are
convinced those two messages are about your Jessica.”
“Wow. Who knew?” said John. “Call me crazy but I always hated the stuff.... Thank heaven for Weetabix.”
About the Author
is a Swede trapped in an American body. He has played squash since the
age of 15, following the classical route of prep school to Ivy League
to squash monomaniac. He spends his days as the editorial director of a
medical publishing company in New York City and his nights dreaming of
being born anew with uncomplaining knees. He is a published short
fiction writer who is far too scatter-brained to ever complete a novel.
Ever since George W. Bush was infamously elected to a second term he
has adopted an emergency exit strategy that requires him to learn
Swedish, from the land of his mother’s birth, which is why he is
currently engaged in obtaining a Certificate in Scandinavian Languages