1. Danny Cater kept looking for love in all the wrong places: science fiction book stores, science fiction conventions, the Internet. Everybody but Danny seemed to know that there weren’t any women to be found in these locations.
Danny’s heart was in the right place, though. He hadn’t experienced a woman’s touch, but that wasn’t his fault. There were so many soap operas to watch, so many mystery novels to read, so many eBay auctions to win. He had nothing but hobbies and, like his favorite super hero Time Man, all of the time in the world to pursue them.
You see, Danny never worked a real 9-to-5 job. He just sat around in his robe all day, growing sad and wan, while he waited for his ship to come in. But he was so lonely, oh god he was so lonely, and he wanted to find someone who would share his life with him.
Was it too much to ask for a beautiful partner who would hold his ferret-like hands, who would tuck him under his stained white sheets, who would worship him with all of her heart? Was that too much?
For reasons he still doesn’t understand, he decided to log into the AOL chatrooms. He couldn’t believe that these things were still operating. They reminded him of 1998, a time when his future seemed a vast expanse. He had filled that expanse with nothing, with hours and days and months of nothing, as he lurched toward forgettable middle age.
The chatroom he entered was #Mbyluv.
“Maybe love,” he said to himself. It sounded so perfect, and in that moment it probably was.
2. #Mbyluv, or Man-boy love, was a phony chatroom maintained by a watchdog organization called DeviantBusters. Founded in 2004 by an outraged mother with too much time on her hands, DeviantBusters had achieved a modicum of fame for its role in entrapping creepy, pathetic people via televised “sting” operations.
Since its heyday in the earlier part of the decade, when brainless former Home Shopping Network presenter Maggie McCleary shot to stardom as the host of this nonsense, its business had tapered off.
“We’ve got a live one here, folks,” said an obese woman who was operating one of the computer terminals. “Sounds like a real pervert too.”
In no time flat, the entire crew—Brian Powell, Georgiy, Oscar Berkman, and their supervisor Mr. Leeds—had gathered around her.
“Shit Daisy, you’ve got to reel him in,” urged Mr. Leeds. He began salivating at the thought of another big-time bust. This was the kind of thing that would get him out of DeviantBusters and back into the big time. He could finally upgrade his Sega GameGear and purchase the handheld gaming system he really wanted. “Give it to him with both barrels.”
Daisy opened a drawer on the side of her desk, withdrew a half-eaten BLT, and took a bite. Mayonnaise and saliva mingled with the thin black hairs around her lips. “Can it, Leeds. Do I look like I was born yesterday? I’ve got this under control,” she said.
“Hey, I know how tough it was for Sonic and his fox friend Tails to get those rings away from Dr. Robotnik. I know what I’m talking about,” Leeds said.
“What the hell does Dr. Robotnik have to do with anything, Leeds?” asked the raccoon-eyed Brian Powell, who was battling a terrible hangover and still harboring a lot of resentment over the Emily Twiggs promotion.
Georgiy elbowed him in the ribs. “Is the setting of your suns, my dear. Getting with the program like Oprah’s Winfrey, yes’m?”
“Could all of you shut up?” Daisy barked through a mouth filled with boneless, skinless chicken wings.
3. DannyHepCat: So did you like David Boreanaz better than Sarah Michelle Gellar? I mean, I think she was a very solid Buffy, but Boreanaz as Angel stole the show
sw33tp3@: yah ok
DannyHepCat: You know, we’ve only been talking for a few minutes but I feel like we have this bond that transcends time and space. I feel like I can type anything to you. It’s a very, uh, Annie Hall moment 🙂
sw33tp3@: yah ok
DannyHepCat: I mean, when I messaged you, I wasn’t sure. I was nervous, I guess. I’ve been alone for a long time. I didn’t know that I was capable of love. I felt that maybe I’d just have my soaps and my sketchbooks, and those are of course very nice, but now I’ve found you. Do you feel that way too?
sw33tp3@: hey cld u bring condoms beerz and l00b to 325 blonde terrace ave 2 pm fri
DannyHepCat: What? Look, I don’t want to rush things. Are these things that your family needs? Like they can’t go grocery shopping or something? I know you said that you live at home. If you don’t have a car, I guess I could get those for you.
sw33tp3@: yah no car whatevs. bring condoms beerz and l00b to 325 blonde terrace ave 2 pm fri
DannyHepCat: Ok, whew. I was really worried about that! I’ll be happy to help you out.
sw33tp3@: yah wear a red shirt 2
DannyHepCat: Well, red is a very slimming color, and I’ve been told I look dashing in it. I like the way you think, sw33tp3@ 😀
sw33tp3@: yah red shirt condoms beerz and l00b 325 blonde terrace ave 2 pm fri. also whats your soc #?
DannyHepCat: My what? What do you need?
sw33tp3@: soc sec # all digits pls
DannyHepCat: Goodness gracious. You’re pretty bossy, huh? It’s a good thing you’re not one of those Nigerian scammers 😉 13339-3434-43434
sw33tp3@: kthxbai 2 pm red shirt condoms l00b 325 blonde terrace ave
[sw33tp3@ has signed off.]
DannyHepCat: You have to go? Parting is such sweet sorrow, my dear, but we’ll be together soon. Oh goodness, I’ve waited for someone like you for my entire life, and now it’s paid off! :–D
4. “Big break in the case,” the Chief said as he crammed a pack of Phillies Blunts into his mouth.
Jack Chaser looked up from the casefile he had been perusing. As always, his eyes were bleary and his face was covered with stubbly, ingrown hairs. “You’ve gotta be kidding me. It’s been three decades.”
The Chief dropped three lit unfiltered Black Death cigarettes into a scalding pot of coffee and downed the concoction in a single swig. “Three decades and a day, Chaser. You know that just as well as I do.”
Chaser stared at his partner. He could see a reflection of himself in the Chief’s leathery, wrinkled countenance. Together, they had carried the weight of the world’s problems on their shoulders—but how much longer could they keep going? “Flower would have been…”
“Yeah,” said the Chief between mouthfuls of the Benzedrine and Nembutal capsules to which he had become hopelessly addicted during a career of thankless, discouraging public service.
If he hadn’t lost the use of his tear ducts during the Barzini case, Chaser would’ve started weeping uncontrollably. Even a man with a soul as hard, cold, and dead as Jack Chaser, Detective Death, had a breaking point. “And Petunia, she would have been…”
The Chief put his right hand–which was missing three fingers on account of a nasty dust-up with “Slate” Flanagan—on his protégé’s back. “You don’t have to say it, Jack.”
“Chief, I brought down the mob. The fucking mob, Chief! Do you get it? Do you see what’s at stake here?”
The Chief nodded, in the process exposing the hole in his throat that he had acquired following a lengthy bout with cancer. “Chaser, you’re losing touch. You’ve got to stay with me. We’re cops. We took an oath to uphold and enforce the law. We’re not in the revenge business.”
Chaser reached into his desk drawer and removed a flask, then took a long drag. He gave the Chief a hard dead cold down and out drunken grin. “Chief, you’re as soft in the head and as hollow in the middle as those doughnuts you eat. You never did learn that you’ve gotta go rogue to go places.”
The Chief ate a few cigarette butts out of his ashtray. Chewing nervously, he tried to take the measure of his best friend/worst enemy. “What the hell are you talking about, Chaser? If you break the rules to bring this perp in, so help me…”
“So help you what, Chief? What are you gonna do? Write me up? Give me a ticket? Haul me before some disciplinary board? I gave up on being a good police a long time ago…or maybe all the good police gave up on me. Not that it matters, anyway. Not after Flower and Petunia.”
The Chief grabbed hold of Chaser and tried to shake some sense into him. “Chaser, listen to me! Listen, for Christ’s sake!”
Even as the Chief shook him, Chaser continued grinning his hard dead cold down and out drunken grin. He was a million miles away from anyone who could save him, and it was already too late. “I brought down the fucking mob!” he shouted.
5. Danny Cater arrived at 325 Blonde Terrace Avenue at exactly 2 p.m. on a clear August day. He carried a brown paper bag that contained condoms, lubricant, and a twelve-pack of his favorite microbrew. He was wearing a loose red polo tucked into khaki trousers that had enormous, billowing pleats.
After nibbling on a bit of tissue paper he kept in his pocket for anxious moments just like these, he approached the door. It was slightly ajar, so he pushed it open and stepped inside.
“Honey, I’m home!” he announced in an obnoxious monotone.
“Just a minute,” a squeaky, youthful voice said in reply. “I’m in the shower getting ready for you. Why don’t you sit down at the kitchen table and make yourself comfortable? I baked some cookies, so help yourself.”
Unsure of himself, Danny walked into the kitchen and took a seat. The house looked really nice, far nicer than his tiny efficiency. However, the person who had talked to him sounded like a young boy. What was he getting himself into?
“Good grief,” he said.
“Good grief is right,” said former Home Shopping Network presenter Maggie McCleary as she stepped into view, trailed by a team of camermen. “What are you doing here, Mr. Cater?”
“What are you doing here, Maggie McCleary? I thought you were in jail,” said Danny, who knew everything there was to know about the goings-on of America’s top celebrities.
“I’m on probation, but that’s neither here nor there. Let’s talk about you. What have you got in that bag?”
“I’ll have you know, Maggie, that I’m bringing condoms, lubricant, and a twelve-pack of Smilin’ Stan Pale Ale to my girlfriend Sweet Pea. She needs these items and doesn’t have a car. We’re madly in love,” Cater said.
McCleary mugged for the cameras, fixing Cater with an evil look. “And what would you do if I told you that Sweet Pea was thirteen years old, a boy, and not real?”
“Could you look at this transcript and tell me if you wrote these things?” She handed him several pieces of paper.
“I typed all of that, yes, but I don’t see anything in here about…”
“I think we all know what’s going on here, Mr. Cater. I think we know what you’re about,” McCleary said. As she turned to motion for the police, a badly-scarred plainclothes detective shoved her out of his way.
“Move it or lose it, toots!” the detective shouted, dead cold down and out drunken hatred flashing in his tearless eyes. “You’re all mine now, you pussy. Any last words before I grind your bones to make my bread?”
“W…what?” Cater whimpered. He brought the napkin to his mouth and began to gnaw on it.
The detective slapped the napkin out of his hand. “Eating paper is a nasty habit, sweetie. So is raping and murdering helpless little kids. I’m gonna say it one more time: Speak now before you’re resting in pieces.”
Frightened out of his wits, Danny simultaneously wet his pants and vacated his bowels. “Who are you?”
The detective pulled a flask from his coat and took a swig. “I’m Jack Chaser, and I’m the last person you’re ever gonna see,” he said.
“Mister, please, I’ve never even jaywalked…”
Chaser smacked Danny with an open hand. “What about Flower? What about Petunia?”
Danny put a hand over his mouth. His lip was bleeding, and several of his teeth were loose. “Mister Chaser…”
Chaser pulled out his service revolver and gutshot Maggie McCleary, who had begun to stir. “That’s Detective Chaser to you, honey. Seems to me you’re all washed up. Keep those cameras rolling, boys,” he said to the startled cameramen. “This here is going to be my will and testament.”
Danny crawled back against the wall. “Mister Chaser, please don’t shoot me,” he begged.
Chaser grinned another dead cold down and out drunken grin. “Who said anything about shooting you, nancy?” He holstered the revolver and took a pair of brass knuckles out of his pocket. He slid the brass knuckles into place over his fist. “No, I’m gonna take my time. I’m gonna enjoy every bit of this. If those urine-drenched knickers of yours are any indication, I think you’re gonna enjoy it, too.”
As Chaser moved toward the cowering Danny, the former with dead cold down and out drunken malevolence in his eyes and the latter with piss all over his pleated khaki pants, the final act appeared inevitable. Danny closed his eyes and thought of Wil Wheaton, his favorite actor.
“You’d better stand down, Chaser,” ordered a commanding voice. Danny’s eyes were still shut, but he could sense that Chaser had stopped his approach.
“To hell with you and your holy book, Chief. We’re doing this one my way,” Chaser replied.
“Step away from him, Chaser. Your gun’s still in its holster and I’ve got you dead to rights. I’ll fill you so full of lead that…”
“Petunia and Flower are gone, Chief. I’ve been in the darkness ever since. What difference would one brief sunrise make? Answer me, Chief!”
Danny felt the impact of the brass knuckles on his cheek. One of his eyes melted clean away, and there was a gunshot, and someone screamed, and there was sobbing, and–he stopped knowing then.
6. Here’s how it happened: A long time ago, Danny Cater fell for a person who didn’t exist. After that affair came to its rude end, he woke up in a hospital bed with a shiny new glass eye in place of the one he had lost.
He never made it with anyone, never even came close, but this one love story was way more compelling than any of mine. It was also much better than his other story, which didn’t make a lot of sense.
“I went down on a girl once,” he said to me years before any of this had happened.
“What do you mean by that?” I asked.
“I went down on her.”
“You went down on her and then what? What did you do down there?”
“I went down.”
“Yeah, down there. I went down.”
I was incredulous. “And what was it like down there?”
There was a long pause. “It smelled like prawns,” he said.