Marvin Howell finds a woman on the internet that he likes. He lives in Urbana, Illinois. Valerie lives in Boise, Idaho. She is thirty-six, never married. She likes science fiction and has a ’dark’ sense of humor. The pictures Valerie has sent Marvin show in one her holding out a glass of red wine while a dog in the background points out of frame and in the other what looks like a high school graduation portrait complete with one hand resting over the other, but undoubtedly isn’t since the woman’s face is thirtyish. In emails he asks her what event the picture came from and cryptically she replies a friend wanted to shoot her this way, but ’never again’ will she pose for anyone. This whole reasoning doesn’t jive but Marvin figures many things don’t, especially on the internet.
Your pictures are very beautiful. I still wonder about ’the story’ of that one. You will have to tell me sometime when we get to know each other better.
I have quite a number of stories myself. I have overseen many development projects here at B.F. Chemical, including something you might know—have you seen the commercial for that new air freshener where the cat deodorizes its own litter box by tripping a motion sensor on its way out? Well I actually started the groundwork on that. My cat is named Father Goose (Do you like Cary Grant? Father Goose is one of his last movies where he is scruffy looking and when his co-star Leslie Caron gets bit on the leg by a snake, he sucks the venom out, very risqué for the early 60’s!) So Father Goose was the inspiration for it. There had to be a way to counteract that urine smell and we found out how. Father Goose is extremely grateful. So are cat owners everywhere.
Anyway Urbana is very cold this time of year. I’d assume Boise gets its share of cold as well, but is somewhat more temperate. The latitude of our cities is very similar. We are both in the middle latitudes. I figured that out one evening on this map website.
So, Chicago is a wonderful city to visit. Very close to here. I bet there are some deals on cheap airline tickets. Depending on when I could get off work and drive up, it would be great if we could meet there.
How is your job? Exactly what kind of office is it? What are your goals in life? Where do you see yourself in two years?
Well have a great day,
P.S. Concerning this person you allude to who has become such a bother. Is it a man? I think if he can’t listen to reason then the authorities must be contacted. That is, if he is a man. But I guess women have been known to fly off the handle as well. But, understand, not any women I have known.
The emails continue back and forth for a few weeks. There is a half-hearted attempt by Marvin to exchange phone numbers but Valerie never responds to this particular inquiry. Then, just before Christmas, she stops answering all together. Odd because she said she had tentatively booked a flight to Chicago for the first week of February. He sends another email making sure everything is okay. Promising that if something has happened that she should just take her time and not feel rushed, but hopefully she will respond soon that she is safe and feeling fine. Nothing comes.
Suddenly Marvin doesn’t have much to look forward to in his email account. Christmas comes and goes. So does New Years. Both uneventful. He and his friend, Jerry, rent some Hitchcock movies. Fireworks go off outside his apartment while in The Birds Tippi Hedren struggles to unleash a sea gull from her golden mound of hair. The friends eye each other in recognition of the New Year beginning, then turn their attention back to Tippi’s dilemma.
A few days later Marvin pulls The Idaho Statesman up on line and searches for any weird disappearances or crimes against women in the last two weeks. There is scant information. Instead an article catches his attention about how a teenager jumped from a bridge to the icy flats of the Boise River on a dare. Apparently Idaho prosecutes bridge jumpers more than other state and the teen is currently serving six months in a detention center. Marvin wonders if Idaho is a place he would really want to visit.
On the site where Marvin met Valerie there has been no activity. No one has responded to his winks sent or the little notes about how he and a certain woman might ’click.’ His ads on various other sites have not been very popular either, in fact no one has viewed him on any of them ever since he posted his profiles. The wind whips around Urbana, after nine the streets are deserted. Even near the University there is little going on. Marvin buys a very large container of coffee at a Border’s Books in a strip mall and sits down with some magazines, mostly of the scientific variety, but also a few entertainment rags. All the latest gadgets and discoveries, what is coming soon, what will take over. Not a care in the world for the items that have become obsolete—the magazine writers don’t even have the dignity to mention the names of the old products. But inventions or anything he reads about are not equivalent to a living, breathing soul. Marvin shuts the cover in disgust. A few tables down a couple sits, each reading a book, their beverages beside them. An air of contentment.
Marvin calls upon Brad, a co-worker. He is known for his hacking abilities, which include obtaining information for B.F. Chemical. All he needs is Valerie’s email and in about fifteen minutes Brad has extracted her full name and street address in Boise. In less than a minute he finds Marvin a telephone number.
At home, later in the evening, Marvin sits down at his desk, a glass of water beside him. Also a blank notepad and two pens, just in case.
After the phone rings once in Boise there is a fair amount of static. His palms sweat. He almost hangs up. But the phone is answered. A sound akin to someone ripping the receiver off the hook. A man’s accented voice says, “Hello?”
“Yes. Is Valerie there?”
Silence. “Valerie,” the man puts a weird pronunciation on it.
“Yes.” Marvin hears a muffled sound. The receiver is covered now. Possibly someone else is called to deal with him.
A regular sounding gentleman says, “Ah. Who is calling?”
“This is . . . Brad.”
“Brad Hedren.” Marvin says.
“Any relation to the actress?” the man asks.
“No. Look, is Valerie there? That’s who I called to speak with.”
“Ah yes. Valerie. No.”
“No?” Marvin says.
“She is . . . not here. She is . . . moved.”
“Really. Where to?”
“Did she leave a forwarding address or number? I’m an old friend.” Again the muffled sound.
“Old friend you say. I doubt it. If you were you would know her better and not ask so many stupid shit questions about her whims.”
Marvin says nothing. Waits.
“Look up the Greenbeck’s on Port Washington Road. They will know. I’ll tell them you are coming, Brad.” Quickly the line is cut off.
Since Milwaukee is only a few hours north the opportunity to find her is extremely tantalizing. The next day Brad from work finds a Kenneth and Patrice Greenbeck who live on Port Washington Road, actually in a northern suburb of Milwaukee called Whitefish Bay. Marvin has never been to Milwaukee but he’s heard stories. Bars on many corners, a baseball team that hadn’t been to the playoffs for over twenty years, and of course, Jeffrey Dahmer.
Mapquest leads him directly to the house in an upscale neighborhood with stone lions, statues of little black jockeys, and lawns exquisitely maintained even in a mild January where surprisingly little snow covers them. Marvin chooses 7 in the evening to try the Greenbecks. A good time, supper would be over, relaxing already commenced. An older woman, he assumes Patrice, answers the door. She has a cream white sweater on and a full shock of gray hair. “Yes?”
“Hello ma’am. Sorry to disturb you. I believe we have a mutual friend in common and I was told she is staying here. A Valerie.”
“Sorry. She’s not. What would make you think that?”
“I was told this—she used to live in Boise. Idaho.”
The woman’s eyes scrunch, “Idaho. Which one is that now, not Iowa right? That’s just across from our state.”
“No. Between Washington and Montana. With the pan handle.”
“Oh yes. I know. No, we don’t know anyone from up there.”
“Actually the latitudes are fairly close ma’am.”
Marvin tries to peer behind her for any clues. But the door is only open as wide as her face. “Nothing?” he says. “No guests recently?”
“No. I am sorry. What does this woman look like?”
From the pictures Marvin does the best job he can, inventing a height and weight that Valerie had explicitly not divulged.
“No. You have the wrong house.”
“Okay.” But after Marvin turns to leave, he is compelled to look back and just before the old woman shuts the door, with the side of her face showing, the barrel of a shotgun comes down behind her. The door is locked.
Marvin drives back toward the interstate and finds a parking lot for commuters who get picked up by buses to go into the city. After he kills the engine, he turns the key backwards and finds the classical music station. Some chamber piece. Soft and slow. He taps the dashboard.
Three hours later, after hearing many requisites in the classical spectrum and freezing to the point of numbness, he finds a Wendy’s and orders a fish sandwich and coffee. The dining room he sits in will close at eleven. At which time he goes back to Port Washington Road. Parking a few blocks away. The Greenbeck’s house is sparsely lit. A high beam shines from the top of the garage. A lamp in the living room behind the curtain.
For weaponry he carries a Swiss Army knife, a tire iron stuck in the back waist of his pants, and a can of WD 40 in his coat pocket.
He rounds the perimeter of the house. Checking other doors, other possible ways in. What he can’t see is a figure bearing the same shotgun following his every move, shadowing him from inside the darkened house. There is a side garage door around back he thinks might be the best way in. He pauses there and tries to find a suitable pick in the knife set to get through the lock. In a second the door swings open and the shotgun is quickly pressed to his head, stinging his temple. “Damn,” he says inwardly, dropping the knife.
He breathes, feeling every second passing signifies he will live—he will return to Urbana and B. F. Chemical and even enjoy the new DVD of The Bob Newhart Show.
When he opens his eyes the woman who presented herself as Valerie to him on the internet holds the gun. “Jesus! It’s me Marvin from connect.com. Don’t shoot!”
Puzzled, she pulls the barrel back slowly. “Marvin? What are you doing? How did you find me?”
“I called where you lived in Boise. They told me. I thought it could work out. I thought we had a chance together. You were going to come to Urbana.”
She licks her lips. “I say many of things Marvin. That doesn’t necessarily mean they will come true.”
“What are you doing here anyway? You should have told me you were going to Milwaukee. I would have driven up. Well I did. . . . ”
“Oh boy. You men. The stories you construct.”
“Valerie, what are you saying?”
Her face softens a bit. She raises the barrel and sighs, “That’s not my name. And if I have to say any more you’ll need to make a pledge to join or I’ll have to kill you. A pledge in blood. It’s your choice.”
When she stands erect she has an inch or two on him. Whatever fear is transmuted into something else and his crotch swells.
“It’s easy Marvin—you walk away now and nothing will happen. If you really want to get to know me you will have to join our cause. A blood oath. Your life in Urbana will be over. From now on you will answer only to us. Your choice.”
“But. . . . ”
“I do find you somewhat attractive, maybe a tad bookish with all the science speak. I can promise you will be in close contact with me. I’m not saying we will marry or anything. But there is a chance. Revolutionaries like to flirt over the internet too.”
“But what will I tell B.F. Chemical?”
“Tell them you’ve had a change of heart.”
Marvin covers his face with his hands. “This is not turning out like I expected. I don’t even know you. Or your real name.”
“Only one way to find out.” She points at the ground with the gun. “Get that knife and cut your palm down the middle. Here cut mine first. Women always have to lead the way.”
“But what cause? I have to know the cause. I have to have a choice. You talk about choice but there is none really.”
“There is Marvin. You are either with us or against us.”
“Give me a hint. What is your philosophy?”
“It has to do with a better way of living. A better way for people, all people—to get what they need.”
“Not communism though, right? Or Middle Eastern fundamentalism?”
“No. This is new. There are no books on it, no CNN expert knows about it. No website. No emails. Nothing. Totally new.”
“But what could you possibly be doing out of Boise and Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin? And the old couple? What are they?”
She takes the knife, slits her palm open and then kisses him, spreading her tongue over his. Marvin almost stumbles. He tries to looks south in the direction of Urbana, but he doesn’t know which way is which. It just seems like the dramatic thing to do before possibly changing one’s life—looking back at home one last time before the journey. Somewhere there is great orchestral music playing. What will he choose?
She thinks she has him and then to be sure tips the scales in her favor. “Marvin, I’ll tell you my real name.” He nods. “It’s Tippi.”
He immediately slits his palm and oozing with blood pastes it against hers in the fight against his own loneliness, in the fight against the powers that be, and in the hope of unbridled freedom and his first, and only, bride.