However, it was one day in the office, in the midst of posting to Facebook about the various announcements and happenings of West Guttenberg, her favored world collided with the real one. In the last few minutes of the previous day, she had posted something about a local missing man and about a reward for any provided information…and per usual upon every morning, she always checked for comments to the the posts of the previous day. When it was warranted, she would engage with the citizens of West Guttenberg in the most professional way possible. (Though, it sometimes required the utmost patience, since trolls have a way of testing one’s resolve. For every acerbic comment that she would read, she would have to watch a benevolent cat clip in order to clear her palette. It was her way of balancing yin and yang.) After only a few sips of her iced coffee, she reviewed the post of the missing man, and as she reviewed the comments below, she found her temperature plummeting to a degree below her beverage.
Even though nearly half of them were in Spanish, she could always use Google Translate to grasp their meaning. It seemed that some of the commenters were making serious accusations about how the red-suited men had gotten a hold of this missing man, how it was a Satanic group of cannibals that ran around the town who acted with total impudence. Of course, others ridiculed these conspiracy theories and then made a mockery of it with jokes about these diablitos, who had come to munch on the chocha of each abuelita. And though the flame war ensued (as they do in each comments section, since it is less of a place of discourse and more of an opportunity to hurl pejoratives and to utilize one another as the metaphorical “emotional tampon”), her focus remained on the subtext of this pointless banter. Unlike them, she actually knew a group of men who wore such red suits and who made it a habit to lurk in the shadows. When she went home that night, she couldn’t shake the feeling of something being amiss, as much as she tried to drown it with poorly made cocktails that were ameliorated with the combination of a milkshake.
And for the next few days, her apprehensions and ambivalence continued to take their toll on her, as she constantly fended off these persistent suspicions. Unlike those of us with a few grey hairs, she hadn’t yet achieved that sort of disposition who gains from a history of walking away; with our callous skin that brandishes scars, we forget how the first time is such a scary proposition. Such an option was completely alien to her, and in that moment, it wasn’t even a possibility, not after placing so many of her chips on one square. Instead, she would rather watch the roulette wheel indulge its appetite by spinning off the gameboard and consume her like Katamari Damacy, all before she would dare to take one step away from the table. A cacophony grew louder around her; more devils and more angels crowded on her shoulders, shouting to be heard above one another. Paralyzed and frozen like an indecisive drunk before the display window of a liquor store, she would have remain transfixed to her metaphysical spot if it wasn’t for the more reasonable side of her, knowing the ultimate carrot for any young woman: curiosity. It prodded and teased, and in the end, the yearning to resolve a mystery overcame all.
So, she created a new Facebook account with a different alias, and with a minimal amount of effort, she befriended a wide circle of the citizens of West Guttenberg, including the friends of the missing man. Winning their confidence with sincere affection, these buddies informed her of his recent money troubles, though he oddly seemed upbeat and unworried despite his financial woes. And when messaging with her new Facebook friends with wild conjecture and gossip of her own fabrication, she worriedly learned how such a disapperance wasn’t a complete surprise to them: it seemed to fit a particular pattern. Even despite some of their more wild points, there seemed to be a consensus on those reported missing. Mostly, these poor souls who disappeared were in dire need of money, had no family in this country, were obsessed with amassing a small fortune, and (most importantly) had a questionable legal status. The more she learned, the greater her suspicions grew…
But Catelyn wasn’t stupid. Nothing was to be gained from confronting Ciro. At best, it could all be a coincidence and a complete fabrication, born of her imaginative paranoia…but her doubt would spurn his love and possibly end what they had. At worst, he could be the monster behind an expertly coiffed mask, and she could become the next one to be missing, joining those long-dead mobsters who had made the wetlands their permanent home. (Plus, if she did ask him, what answer would he give but a denial? Such an imposition would be utterly pointless and futile.) There was only one way to truly find out: she needed to catfish Ciro’s cabal as an inquisitive, prospective buyer. It was an obviously dangerous move, but at this point, she needed a definitive answer. Even in the beginning, she felt a certain moral ambiguity about it all, but her trust and love in Ciro had tipped the scales earlier. But now, in the face of these recent events…her moral compass may have spun wildly in the electromagnetic field that was Ciro, but it was not broken.
Using the various skills and knowledge attained within the last few months, she forged her social media masterpiece, something akin to a forged passport of the Cold War that was undetectable even by the KGB. It was skillfully layered, being connected and verified by other false accounts, all of which were hooked into accounts of the real world. Goddamn, she thought, Sometimes I amaze myself. And with her Hattori Hanzo in hand, she strode out into cyberspace and presented herself to one of Ciro’s people, unabashedly saying:
“Hey, I’m a friend of a friend, and I’m in need of some merchandise on ice. I heard that you had some problems with your last batch. I don’t deal where there’s risk. Tell me straight – everything’s good on your end?”
She didn’t know what the response would be, not expecting much – and that was when Pandora’s Box opened to reveal its horrors.
Peter Bolton is the author of Blowing the Bridge: A Software Story and has also been known to be a grumpy bastard on occasion. For those who wish to read previous chapters of The Condo Chronicles, the Table of Contents is available.