CLUES TO MURPLE

by Kirk Curnutt

The first thing he did after tossing the shotgun, ditching his F-450 at the quarry, shaving his goatee, and dyeing his hair, was Google himself.

Three hours and two hundred miles earlier, Jarvis Murple had shot his father and three of his father’s poker buddies at point-blank range. The men had mocked his negligible skills at Omaha Hi once too often, Murple had snapped, and now he needed to know if he was wanted for murder or merely attempting it.

What he couldn’t quite admit was that he was also eager to see what people were saying about him.


His laptop blipped to life on the breakfast table of the unassuming Seagrove Beach, Florida condo he’d forced his way into. While the machine loaded, he honed a Bowie knife on a whetstone before dragging it several times up and down a leather strop. Across the room a woman lay on a couch, hogtied. She was the condo’s owner, and she blinked in terror at the weapon. Murple would’ve liked to tell her that the strop, the whetstone, and the knife were the only things he’d retrieved from his father’s house after the bloodbath.

“Childhood gifts,” he wanted to explain. “My old man gave them to me before he gave up on me for being too effete to wield a hunter’s weapons convincingly.”

But that sounded whiny, so he tried again, silently.

“The last I saw of Daddy, his belly looked like something dumped out of a Chef Boyardee can. If he’s still alive, he’s reconsidering his assumptions about me. And if the coot hasn’t survived … well, either way, I’ll never again suffer the abuse of being called a bookworm just because my ambition in life has been to author a few books. I finally showed him.”

No matter how he phrased it, Murple never sounded as tough as he wanted to.

So he walked over to the woman, flicking his thumb across the Bowie’s tip. It was a cavalier gesture done in hopes of steadying his shaking hands before he laid the blade to her jugular.

“I have something very important to ask you. I don’t want to hurt you, but if you in any way scream out, you’ll make me. This blood peppering me should be pretty good proof of what I’m capable of.”

He loosened the gag between the woman’s teeth.

“Do you have WiFi?”

Her eyes darted left and right as if a cue card with the correct answer might be propped somewhere in her peripheral vision. “Excuse me?” she stammered.

“I need the Internet. I can’t be tied down to a modem, though. I need wireless.”

“Th-there’s not even cable here. I only come down on the weekends, to get away. Cable defeats the point of getting away. I try to stay offline, but if I absolutely have to check my email, I use dial-up.”

The thought of being buffered by a landline was almost enough to send Murple into another rage. It was typical of his bad luck that his hostage would be a technophobe. He would’ve liked to have slit her throat just to demonstrate how a hotspot could be a lifesaver. Then again, the fault was as much his as hers. He never should’ve come to Seagrove Beach. He had a lot of pretty childhood memories of the place, of this exact street even, but it’d always been a retiree haven. The condos probably still came with rotary phones.

Murple re-gagged the woman and returned to his laptop, whose screen gleamed with a JPEG of the front cover of his most recent poetry collection, Azure Against the Gray Oppression of Clouds, out three weeks now. A bubble in the lower right-hand corner informed him that several wireless networks had indeed been detected in his vicinity. When he clicked on the icon, he discovered just what he expected: most of the networks were password protected. The only one that wasn’t was from a pizzeria across the street, and the signal was weak enough to register as a one-bar. Murple considered registering his frustration by marching over there and pumping a round in their router. Then he remembered he couldn’t—he’d chucked his shotgun thirty miles to the north in DeFuniak Springs.

Despite the weak signal, Murple managed to reach the Net, where he was surprised and perhaps not a little disappointed to discover he wasn’t yet linked to his crime. He was a subscriber to Google Alerts, but experience had taught him that notification of a new hit wasn’t always immediate. So instead he typed in his hometown and the word shooting to learn that police were on the scene of a multiple homicide. Details were sketchy. That made Murple think his name was likely known, just not released to the public. He wondered how long that would take and whether the media would swipe his author photo off his website, where it was available for book reviewers to download, along with his press kit, at 300 dpi.

Forty-five minutes passed before the first AP report identified him as a person of interest. Murple had so lulled himself by constantly tapping the refresh key that when his photo finally popped up it was as startling as a sock to the chin. The reporter hadn’t used his official portrait. Instead, Murple was greeted with a grimacing JPEG his department secretary had taken on a disposable camera. His dean at the small college where he taught had mandated that faculty post a picture of themselves on the Arts & Sciences homepage. “To help our students better recognize us in the halls,” the man had insisted. It was a horrible shot of Murple, mainly because when it was snapped he was blanching at the thought of students recognizing him in the halls.

Murple scrolled to the bottom of the article, but there was no contact information for the reporter. He cut and pasted her byline into a new Google window and then clicked the link to her Twitter page. Sure enough, she had an email address posted there alongside a brief plea: AP Reporter here. Looking for anyone who knows Jarvis Murple. Students, co-workers, ex-girlfriends especially. For a long time Murple contemplated the ampersand in her address. Then he opened yet another window at Gmail, where he created a new account using the name of a nineteen-year-old in his Beginning Verse class he often fantasized about sleeping with. I know Murple well but I don’t want to talk to you. I just want you to know he has a website with way better pictures. As he went to send the message, he worried the reporter would suspect it was from him. To throw her off the scent he changed his prepositions from to to 2. Just to be safe, he also typed his name the way the girl did: Murpal. All the nineteen-year olds he ever fantasized about sleeping with misspelled it that way.

“Please let me go,” the hogtied woman whispered. She had worked the gag loose by poking at it with her tongue. “I won’t tell anyone you’re here.”

“May I read you something?”

The woman recoiled. Her fear was different now, but Murple was familiar enough with it. He was so steeled to it, in fact, that anymore it only made him laugh.

“Don’t worry. It’s not anything I wrote. This is from Goodreads.com. It’s a book review website I belong to. If you want to sell books these days, this is the kind of stuff you have to do. You have to go online, get into chatrooms and on discussion boards. You have to hump your own work. It’s humiliating.”

He pulled up a new screen and recited a post in its entirety: These poems are so corny they’ll pass straight into your stool, undigested.

“That’s a review of my new book. From somebody called MyFleshSingsOut. Supposedly from Midland, Michigan, but I have my doubts. It may be a disgruntled student wreaking a revenge for a bad grade. Even if it’s not, I doubt this reader has a copy. The publisher is a little indie press. A two-person operation. Indies always have lousy distribution, especially the two-person ones.”

“Th—that review … it’s so mean-spirited. I can’t believe somebody would say that.”

He wanted to tell her how long it’d taken him to establish what small reputation he had. There were so many years of obscurity—back in the days of Lycos, AltaVista, and Northern Light—when an inquiry into his last name resulted in endless references to Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. Even today, if he didn’t punch himself in between quotation marks, he would have to pore past a half-dozen consecutive links to UrbanDictionary.com, where on June 10, 2004, someone known only as “Joy” had defined a murple as an indiscreet bodily noise that “slips out especially if ur sittin down.” Those links were usually followed by a Wikipedia entry on the progressive Italian rock band Murple. Their sole album was a 1974 rock opera called lo sono Murple, in which the eponymous hero is a penguin who leaves Antarctica to battle a nemesis known as the Evil Man.

“But that was before my debut poetry collection, Requiem for This Silo-Bound Landscape, won the prestigious Edward Arlington Robinson Competition for a First Chapbook sponsored by the Bucolic Press of Head Tide, Maine,” Murple would’ve liked to explain. “Never mind that the press only printed 300 copies of it. Or that Edward Arlington Robinson’s name is really Edwin. That chapbook got me in the search engines. One month alone I had 1,280 hits. It also earned me my own Wikipedia entry.”

As Murple now checked the page, he was disappointed to find there were no new edits since he’d last updated it three weeks ago.

“Nobody cares about honest criticism anymore. Nowadays it’s all about the quip. Everybody wants to be a wit. There is a bright side, though: MyFleshSingsOut actually gave me two stars. That only dropped my average down to 3.52. He could’ve gone with one and really screwed me.”

“If you don’t kill me,” the woman blurted, “I’ll give you five stars.”

Murple knew she lied, so he refitted the gag and flipped her to her left side. That way, he wouldn’t have to watch her staring at him.

Back at his phony Gmail account he discovered an email from the reporter.

This is my cell. Please call. On background even.

Murple clicked on his Google Chat feature.

I said I don’t want 2 talk 2 U.

Maybe we could just email if the phone’s not cool. Or some combo of the two. I Skype. You?

Murple had his own question.

Did u look at the pics at that link I sent?

I did.

What u think?

Better indeed. Downloading.

No … what do u think ABOUT HIM?

There was a pause before the reply flashed into the cramped chatbox.

Honestly?

I think …

he looks …

creepy.

Murple stared in disbelief until another message appeared:

Were you ever scared of him?

He went to his settings page and with three taps deleted the fake account.


Murple wanted badly to check Facebook, but that was suicide. It was only a matter of time before the authorities monitored his page to trace his IP address. They would keep tabs on his personal website, too, as well as his faculty page at school. Thinking he was dumb enough to trust the anonymity of cyberspace, the cops would track his accounts at LibraryThing or weRead. From there it was a short hop to finding him on Publishers Marketplace, Match.com, maybe even MySpace—although he hadn’t been to MySpace in more than two years.

He nicked his thumb on the Bowie and realized, stupidly, that he’d just visited his Goodreads page, where the automatic log-in would list him in the registry. Maybe the cops weren’t readers. Murple calmed himself with further rationalizations. Even if the authorities knew which websites he visited, they’d need his laptop’s signature, and that would be hard to hunt down since it wasn’t a school machine. They’d have to serve a warrant on his cable company. That would take hours if not days. Just to be safe, though, he shut down the laptop. Instead of rebooting it in Windows Vista, he went into the control panel and loaded his alternate operating system. The cops might come after him online, but their brains were Microsoft-bound. They would never guess he was proficient in Linux.

His sense of security didn’t last long. He clicked to his Wikipedia entry, where he discovered a new addition below his three-line list of publications and awards: Murple was named the prime suspect in the murders of his father and three other men on April 25, 2010. A federal arrest warrant was issued that same day after he was charged with unlawful flight to avoid persecution.

It took him several seconds to realize what was so chilling about the paragraph:

Today was only April 24.


Murple went into his entry’s editing history. It’d been revised 131 times. 130 of those had been by a single user, “Versifier,” which was Murple’s screen name. The final edit, though, was from a “StanDestine.” As Murple suspected, it was the Wiki-user’s first and only contribution to the online encyclopedia. So they were after him—the state police, or the FBI, maybe. Whoever it was, they were baiting him. Like a chess player, Murple tried to project ahead several moves. He had to be careful not to be tricked into revealing his location. He decided to leave Wikipedia alone for a while.

He returned to Facebook, where several new posts dotted his profile.

Martha-Claire Jones: WTF? Is it true? Today at 9:12.

Edward Menefee: Whoa—my poetry teacher is on a rampage. Today at 9:13.

Johnny “The Skill” McGill: I guess the paper due next Monday is postponed?!? Someone? Anyone? Today at 9:14.

Followed by several in a row from one “Kirsten Philstrom”:

You people are vultures … Today at 9:18

Haven’t you ever heard of innocent until proved guilty? Today at 9:18

Prof. Murple was a good teacher. I don’t believe he’s capable of killing. Today at 9:19

I meant innocent until PROVEN guilty. Don’t pounce, grammar Nazis. Today at 9:21.

Kirsten Philstrom was the girl in his Beginning Verse he’d fantasized about sleeping with. The one whose name he’d borrowed to email the AP reporter. For a moment Murple allowed himself to daydream of her sharp black bob, the plaid mini-skirts and motorcycle boots she wore to class, the crimson lipstick that looked all the redder against her powdered white face. He could even remember the typeface she used on her writing assignments—Garamond. Although they were Facebook friends, this was the first time she’d ever posted anything to his page. Murple couldn’t help but wish there was a link to a “See Wall-to-Wall” page. He would’ve liked to trace their correspondence through a long history of back-and-forth, traded in a secret code of shared abbreviations and allusions that were hermetic to everyone but the two of them. Before he knew what he was doing, he’d clicked to her page, where he flipped through her photo albums, all full of youth and beauty and beer. He returned to her profile and pondered the eternal dilemma of Facebook politesse: better to “poke” her or send her a PM? The former seemed presumptuous. Murple tapped out a message so hastily he didn’t bother to capitalize: thank you for your support … it means so much to me. Once he’d sent it, he went back to his page and in a rush of boldness updated his status: Times like these show who your real friends are….

He was interrupted by a thud. For a second, he thought the door had been kicked in, but instead it was the hostage. She’d rolled off the couch and landed facedown on the floor. Murple raced to her, the Bowie in hand, and lifted her to her side. Blood streamed from her nostrils over the gag. Murple tried to stanch it with paper towels from the kitchen, but she’d fallen with such force that the bone was jammed far enough to the left that she looked like a Picasso portrait.

“This was why I said not to move. Christ Almighty, there wasn’t this much blood at Daddy’s.”

He sliced away the gag so she could breathe. Still, the woman choked on her whimpering. Reluctantly, Murple freed her hands, too, so she could hold the towels to her own face. “My kids,” she stammered. “I have grandkids … I want to see them again.”

“Want, want, want,” Murple growled. “Everybody wants. I want, you want, they want, we want. None of my wants were ever satisfied so why should you expect me to care about yours? All I wanted was for you to be quiet. See how disappointing wants are?”

“Please … anything.”

“All right, there is something I want: food. Do you have any, or is that something you come to Seagrove to get away from too?”

He yanked her upright and led her to the kitchen, where he rifled the refrigerator and cupboards. She had a half-pack of bacon, two heels of bread, maybe three squirts of mayonnaise, and just enough butter to slick a skillet. “A BLT it is,” Murple sighed. “Hold the lettuce and the tomato, it looks like.”

From the nook he could watch the woman’s every move. He timed himself to a three count to look up from his computer screen, just to discourage her from dashing for the door. He checked Facebook again, but Kirsten had yet to reply to his PM. He opened a new window and searched himself again on Google News. Goddamn if the media still hadn’t downloaded his official picture. It had to be sheer laziness on their part. If journalists could find his departmental web page, what was so hard about going to his personal website? Murple re-Googled himself and discovered the answer. The university URL topped the hits that popped up because it was a sponsored link. Murple’s own site wasn’t even on the first page of links; the rest redirected to illustrated stories starring about some kids’ book creature called Murple the Purple. When he typed in his own WWW, the counter at the bottom of his homepage read 104, the same number of visits as before his rampage. Angry, Murple copied the link and posted it below a new status update: No one seems to know this exists. Do you think it might be helpful?

As he typed, he heard the cackle of melting butter. The woman draped the bacon in the skillet, making his mouth water. Murple realized how hungry he was. But he lost his appetite when an entry on his Facebook News Feed jumped out. Johnny “The Skill” McGill had posted a review via Goodreads.com of Azure Against the Gray Oppression of Clouds. It read, in its entirety, Man, these poems are killer. Even more insulting was the rating: a whopping one star.

“Son of a bitch! That’s exactly what I mean about the tyranny of the quip! Everyone’s just a wiseacre lying in wait—”

He saw a flash in his peripheral vision. The woman had crept up on his blind side. She drew back the skillet and swung it as if returning a tennis serve. Murple felt the bacon bounce at his face just before he was drenched in butter and grease. The burn bowled him out of his chair and sent him staggering backwards as he pawed his skin, which seemed to bubble off as viscera. The woman bashed him across the shoulder, dropping him to his knees. She tried to crack the back of his head, but he lunged for her hips and tackled her. As the skillet clattered out of reach, Murple pinned her with a forearm to the throat. He couldn’t hold her, however. The pain was too much. Murple did the only thing he could think of—he leaped to the kitchen and slathered his face with her last three squirts of her mayonnaise.

He was stooped over the sink, still gasping, when he heard the hostage gurgle for air. She’d lain so still Murple thought he’d crushed her windpipe. “That’s exactly what you’re not supposed to do,” she struggled to say. “You’ve just made it worse.”

“The vinegar … it’s supposed to cool a burn.”

“That’s a myth. The oil traps in the heat instead of soothing it. You should soak your face in cold water.”

Murple was close to crying. “All you had to do was make me a sandwich.”

He staggered back to the nook, his face in a wet dish towel, soles crunching the hurled bacon. What mayonnaise didn’t splatter to the floor in fat globs streamed down his chest and arms and dripped off his elbows. He could feel his face cracking and blistering like a burnt hot dog. Only one thing could take his mind off his pain, and it was waiting for him in his Facebook inbox.

Kirsten Philstrom had replied to his PM.

Check your sales rank on Amazon.com, she wrote.

Murple liked to think he was above that, but in reality he went to Amazon several times a day. There were times when his ranking seemed as insurmountable as the national debt—it had about as many digits, anyway. But every so often the ONLY 5 LEFT IN STOCK—MORE SOON ON THE WAY key would shrink down to 4 or 3, and his rank would soar into the high five figures. He often wondered who bought those books. Did readers support him only because they knew him and felt obliged? Or had a perfect stranger happened onto his website and fallen in love with what a reviewer once called his “limpid, crenellated style?” Some days that latter possibility felt as farfetched as life on Mars.

So it was a shock when Murple did as Kirsten said and discovered Amazon was out of Azure Against the Gray Oppression of Clouds. His new rank was 58,291. That meant his slim volume of poetry—composed of sestinas and villanelles, and not just blank verse—now topped 31,709 more books than it ever had before. The number did more to cool Murple’s molten skin than any salve could.

To his additional delight, he scrolled down to discover a new Customer Review—his only Customer Review. It was from Kirsten as well.

My biggest regret is I waited until my professor was wrongly accused of murder to check out this book. These are beautiful poems. I especially like “Subcutaneous is the Touch of Love.” You can use the “See Inside” button and read for yourself. Sorry you can’t buy the book for now because I’m taking them all for myself. Maybe it’s crazy for me to buy five copies, but it’s my way of protecting him. I know there are creeps out there who would only want this for ghoulish reasons, but this book isn’t some John Wayne Gacey clown painting!!! Maybe when tonight is over and his name is cleared I can get a copy signed.

Next to the words “Was this review helpful?” Murple clicked the button that said YES.


“You should be on the run instead of on a computer,” his hostage said. She was still on the floor, palms flopped face up by her head, as if she’d given up and waited to be outlined in chalk.

“I’ve heard some variation of that all my life,” Murple snapped from the kitchen. “‘Put down that book,’ Daddy used to say. ‘It’s too nice a day outside to waste on reading.’”

The sink overflowed with ice water. Each time he numbed his burns in it little peels of skin came loose until the water was mucky as a birdbath.

“This can’t go on forever. In a half-hour my son will call to check on me. He does it every night before I go to bed. If I don’t answer he’ll know things aren’t right. Then he’ll call the police. He’s done it before. One night I took one Ambien too many and they nearly pounded the door off the hinges trying to wake me.”

Murple wished he could gag her again, but she would asphyxiate because her nose was too swollen to breathe through. He wrapped the freezer’s remaining ice cubes in a dish towel and pressed it to his temple and cheek. He sat back down at his laptop to disappointment. Kirsten hadn’t written back yet. He wanted to IM her, to talk to her in real time, but he was afraid of scaring her off. To distract himself he logged back into Wikipedia to check whether “StanDestine” had edited his entry again.

Had he ever.

Only hours after fleeing the murder scene, the final sentence now read, Murple was tracked to Seagrove Beach, Florida.

Murple blinked at the words, convinced he misread them. When he couldn’t deny what they said, he ran to the window and flipped back the curtain. It was a dumb move—the only way a SWAT sniper could’ve had a cleaner shot was if he’d painted Aim Here on his forehead. But there was nothing unusual outside. The ocean was striped with moonlight, and the dunes glowed as elephant white as they had throughout Murple’s childhood visits here.

“Where is it?” he demanded of the hostage.

“Where’s what?”

He yanked her books from their shelves, dumped her drawers onto the floor, slashed her couch cushions with the Bowie and hacked the foam stuffing to bits.

“The microphone … the transmitter … maybe it’s a webcam. It’s here somewhere, I know. There’s no other way they could have traced me to the beach so fast!”

The hostage curled to her side and tucked her hands over her face. Murple ripped through every rice bag and cereal box in the pantry, kicked the legs off the chairs, gouged the drywell, and gutted the insulation. When he finished, the only thing left standing was the breakfast-nook table, the altar of his laptop. Covered in flour and salt, pillow feathers and Coco-Puffs clinging to his arms, he tried to catch his breath. The apartment was quiet until his machine let out a soft, sonorous ping.

He had an email.

Dear Professor Murple, I’m sorry my other email was so short. I was hiding my PDA from my roommate. Everybody at school keeps saying horrible things about you—I can’t take it here anymore. Please, tell me where I can come to. I want to tell you in person I believe in you. You always taught me such amazing things. I’m not done learning from you. Sincerely, Kirsten.

There was no way he could let her join him. She believed in his innocence; the truth would only crush her. For the first time in five hours, Murple regretted shooting his daddy and his daddy’s poker buddies. Why couldn’t he and Kirsten have had this conversation before he’d murdered anybody? There were indeed so many amazing things he would’ve loved to have taught her—

So many that he started to list them all in a reply. It would probably be the last thing he ever wrote, so the email had to be great. It had to ring with the power of poetry.

And it might have, too, if Murple hadn’t noticed something strange staring at Kirsten’s message. The more he fixated on it, the more ominous it seemed. The girl had done something she never had before—something even more unexpected than buying his book.

She’d spelled his name correctly.

He sank against a wall until he could muster the courage to ask what he already knew was certain.

You’re not really her, are you?

The answer came back immediately.

Sorry. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk. This ends soon. Your choice how.


Murple scooped the hostage into his arms and propped her on the couch. She was limp, but not unconscious, just passive. He shoved the nook table to within a foot of the couch and then jammed the USB of a webcam into a laptop port.

“I won’t be part of a hostage tape,” the woman said, her lips barely able to move under the hideous bulb her nose had grown into. “You’ll have to kill me first.”

“I don’t have any demands. No confession, no excuse, no manifesto. I have nothing I want to say.”

“I won’t take off my clothes, either. That’s all the Internet is good for, but I won’t let you humiliate me.”

“I don’t want that either.”

“Then what will you want?”

Murple tossed a book into her lap. “I want you to read my work. Out loud.”

As she sat there, confused, he logged into Chatroulette. He’d been reading about the website for months now but had never had the courage to try it. Something about it scared him. It wasn’t the random pairings its split screen threw you into. It wasn’t the snarky comments he imagined his premature gray and hint of a double chin would inspire from users young enough to believe they were immune to middle-age (“Dad, what r u doin here?”). It wasn’t even that in its earliest, most infamous incarnation Chatroulette was a Fiddler’s Green for those wanting to show off their self-fiddling skills. The chronic masturbators were history, Murple understood; now for a finder’s fee the website redirected flashers and mashers to the more genitalia friendly environs of Penthouse. Even so, Murple had stayed away from Chatroulette.

What scared him was the possibility of not connecting with anyone. Deep down he doubted he was interesting enough to stall users from clicking to the next arbitrary linkup. “Nexting” it was called. Murple didn’t need social media to tell him he was a nobody. That’s what his career was for.

The hostage reluctantly cracked the book open.

“Tincture of gules in the egotist’s fame,” she read, not understanding a word. “Apparition of eternity on a title page.…”

The first person the website partnered him with was a topless fat man rubbing lotion on his hairy nipples. The man squinted at the hostage, gave her two words’ worth of attention, and clicked off. The second was a roomful of frat boys. They hoisted a sign that said Show Boobs before realizing the woman was old enough to be their mother, if not their grandmother. They were soon gone. Next was a tattooed girl who popped a big bubble of gum before bailing. From there were teenagers giggling through their braces, hipsters singing nursery rhymes accompanying themselves with ukuleles, and lots of lonely-looking men pining nostalgically for the carefree days when they could unzip and zoom in.

“Is anybody listening?” the hostage asked when she finished the first poem.

“Not really. We’re not bizarre enough for them. Funny, huh? If they only knew … but they click away hoping for a grotesque.”

“Will you tell me when somebody sticks around?”

“Nobody will.”

But somebody did. On the fifth poem (“Prometheus Takes a Smoke Break”), a young woman closed her eyes and let herself sway to the rhythm of Murple’s iambic hexameter. She was doe-eyed and freckled, and she reminded him once more of all those students he’d ever imagined boinking.

U wrote that? she asked. The girl must’ve known the hostage didn’t control the computer—there wasn’t a keyboard anywhere near the couch. For once Murple was glad his audience didn’t know what his face looked like.

I did. U like?

Lots. Pretty. I’m a word gurl.

His reply was short but thick with need: Please stay.

And she did. The hostage continued reading out loud—one poem, two poems, three, and so on until she was nearly at the end of his ninety-eight page opus. The girl didn’t say a thing, and Murple didn’t write. He just watched the effect his words had on her. Yes, this was the one. He’d lusted after this reader all his life, never imagining she actually existed. As the hostage began his book’s final selection (“The Bridge at the Bank Closest to This Side of Regret”), he couldn’t keep his silence any longer.

I would like to call you Kirsten, he wrote.

I would like to see ur face. With words as wonderful as those, you must be B-U-T-ful.

It took a moment not to read that as butt-full. He’d also forgotten that his face was burnt crisp as a fritter. He reached for the webcam, planning to turn it on himself, slowly enough that he could enjoy undressing her expectation. Only his hostage knew nothing of how in his imagination he was kissing this girl’s shoulders, caressing the nape of her neck. The woman didn’t realize he was making love to his one fan’s reverence for him. She thought he was disconnecting the camera.

“Help! He’s going to kill me! I’m at 1101 Dogwood Street, Seagrove Beach—call the police!”

On the computer screen, the girl’s winsome smile went square as a brick.

WTF? Not funny, dilweed.

And she clicked off.


Nothing was left to do now but read his own eulogies. They weren’t pretty. Murple’s colleagues told any news outlet that asked what a pompous, self-absorbed feeb he was. Pundits on cable shows called him a “classic sociopath.” The neighbor who lived next door to his daddy’s said he came off “swishy.” The AP reporter he’d IM’d interviewed a student, Kirsten Philstrom, who said Murple looked at women “like with every blink he was ripping your clothes off.”

“You should turn yourself in,” the hostage said. “There’s still time. Prison wouldn’t have to be so bad. You could write and write all day long.”

On his Facebook page, from Johnny “The Skill” McGill : Dude, aren’t you tired from all that killing? Seriously, you must be shot….

On Goodreads.com, an updated review from MyFleshSingsOut, from Midland, Michigan: “Charlie Manson thought he was an artist, too, bungwad. I’m changing my score. 1 star.”

And via Google News, a new alert: Chatroulette: Thrillsville for Fugitives on the Lam?

“Please,” the woman begged. “I’m tired. My heart can’t take any more.”

“Mine neither.”

He went to Wikipedia, where “StanDestine” had added a new final sentence to his entry:

Jarvis Murple was shot to death in a hail of police bullets on April 25, at approximately 6:18 a.m.

That was seven hours away. An eternity, Murple reckoned. He went to the window and flipped back the curtain. He expected to see the ocean striped with moonlight, the dunes glowing elephant white as they had throughout his childhood visits here. Instead, the window exploded. He didn’t have time to see the shards rain over the sofa, or the hostage dive for the floor to avoid being sliced to ribbons. He felt something slap him in the center of the forehead as squarely as if an AIM HERE had been painted there.

Murple was dead before he hit the carpet.


A behavioral analyst from the FBI stood over the body. With him was the local sheriff, who marveled at how quickly the feds had traced Murple to Seagrove Beach.

“I reckon I need to learn this Internet stuff. You really tracked him here from all these webspots he was logrolling on?”

“Nothing that sophisticated,” the analyst answered. “We were lucky. We combed the old man’s place. Right there on the refrigerator was a little cartoon Murple drew as a kid. His old man must’ve had the thing under a magnet for forty years. But there it was: a doodle of a little boy and his daddy on white sand. In one corner was an address. You guessed it. Murple and his pop used to vacation in this very condo. As smart as the son of a bitch thought he was, he might’ve swiped the picture after making gumbo out of that poker party. The moron couldn’t have pointed us here any quicker if he’d emailed us directions.”

“Why all the screwing with his head then? Why not just bust down the door and shoot him hours ago?”

“He was a beta case. We needed him to test how well we can manipulate social media in a standoff. Pretty damn well, as it turns out. Someday the FBI will just sit at home and solve crimes in our P.J.’s.”

“If y’all don’t mind, I’d like for your people to change that Wikipeter business. You said ‘hail of bullets,’ but my boy from SWAT only needed a single pull to down the bastard. Our snipers are sorta sensitive to that point. They like to reassure folks they’re a ‘one-shot drop.’”

The analyst considered correcting the entry, but he was tired. “Let’s leave it as is. It makes for a more dramatic story.”

The sheriff wasn’t sold on the idea, but that didn’t make him any less impressed with the feds. It took both smarts and gump to sucker a fugitive into giving SWAT such a clean shot. The sheriff congratulated the analyst again, but the agent was humble.

“It’s not brain surgery. Once you study their profile, you can predict what they’ll do ten miles down the road. Everything in this one’s background said he’d find a way online wherever he was hiding. Getting him to stand in that window? Just a matter of playing to his self-absorption, that’s all.”

“But what did you have to classify him as to figure that out? Antisocial personality? Compensatory narcissist?”

“Honestly? We never got around to categorizing him. Something about the guy said straight up he wouldn’t be able to help himself, that he’d need to see how he was being seen.”

“And what was that?”

“He was a writer,” the analyst shrugged.


by Kirk Curnutt

December 8, 2010 | Posted in: Fiction | Comments Closed

Comments are closed.