The next night, Sunday, I went over to Lynnie’s house and we talked about what we knew. Lynnie’s dog, Sugar, a creamy white Samoyed who was exceptionally friendly—too friendly—kept jumping up and trying to lick my face. I held her back at the edge of the chair arm while Lynnie wrote in her notebook
Big Mean Dogs
Drunk rude Fred
Fred’s farm and Nancy (also dogs)
Nancy and union
DICKS! (some with disease)
“And,” Lynnie said. “I have a surprise.” She held up her copy of Devon’s notebook, open to the page with the picture of the heavy-breasted woman sucking a cock. “I did an image search. This lady’s a porn star.”
“No doubt,” I said. “She looks familiar.”
“Devanna Seppard is one of her names. S-E-P-P-ard.”
I said, “Ah!”
“I bet somebody called Devon that,” Lynnie said. “And I bet she didn’t like it.” Lynnie held up the picture of the skinny guy with the giant dangling cock. “And this guy?”
“Not me,” I said.
“No, he’s a gay porn star named Tom Hornblower.”
“Hey!” I said. I told her how fucking Fred called me Tom Hornblower the night before. What a creep.
“It was probably Fred calling her Devanna Seppard, too,” Lynnie said. “Yeah, these people are totally pieces of shit. But, Tommy—we still don’t know what they’re up to.”
“Well,” I said. “We haven’t tried hard enough.”
“And when we do find out what they’re up to—what then?”
I didn’t have an answer to that. I hadn’t really thought about it. I gave a half-shrug, a dunno shrug.
“We go to the cops, right?”
I said, “Yeah….”
“You don’t want to go to the cops,” Lynnie said.
“I didn’t say that!”
“Yeah, but your affect says that.”
I hate it when people read my alleged affect. But, yeah—I suddenly didn’t want to go to the cops. Because the cops were likely to blow it off. Because the cops were likely to fuck it up. Because what had happened to Devon was personal. Because.
“Because if we don’t take it to the cops, we’ll have to do the vigilante thing ourselves.”
in her notebook.
“And I went to college to be a historian, not to be the goddamn Batman.”
The Weirton cops—they had a reputation for being a bunch of dismal fuckups. But we had nothing to take them now, anyway, so I guessed it didn’t matter.
“So,” I said. “Let’s go see if we can find Devon’s emails.”
An hour later we drove past Devon’s house. Devon’s car was still in the driveway and a porchlight was on in the other side of the duplex, the neighbor’s side. Devon’s side was dark, though the power was probably still on—I’d heard Tee mention at some point that Devon’s brother was keeping the utilities paid until he got up here to move out her stuff.
“Don’t drive too slow,” I said. “Just drive normal.”
Lynnie brought Sugar along and the crazy friendly dog kept trying to stick her nose in my ear and I kept having to push her into the back seat. I like dogs and I like cats—I liked Sugar fine—but this was the first time I’d ever broken into a house, and I was kind of nervous.
“Normal means different things,” Lynnie said. I think she was a little nervous, too. “It’s kind of exclusionary—it’s a matter of perspective. What’s normal to you isn’t necessarily normal to me.”
“I know that’s right,” I said.
Still, she drove fine. Devon’s street, Sheffield Trail, was a big loop, and Lynnie followed the loop around until she came back out on Highway 4, more or less across from my house. She made a right on 4, passed the high school and a big non-denominational church on the other side with a yellow and black HEAL THIS LAND billboard on the roof, and then she made another right on the other end of Sheffield Trail. She pulled over and stopped by a vacant lot about a half block down from Devon’s. There was a pickup parked in front of us, but we still had a clear view of Devon’s duplex.
“Okay,” I said. I shoved Sugar once more back away from my ear. “Call me if you see anything weird.”
“How weird?” Lynnie asked.
“Your cop buddies,” I said. “Snoops. Things that aren’t normal.”
I got out of the car quietly and eased the door shut and I walked nonchalantly up the street—as nonchalantly as I could, at least. Ten o’clock on a Sunday night, the end of Thanksgiving weekend, and the town was mostly quiet, the nosy neighbors dozing off. A front had blown through and the sky was clear and cold, and a few stars were out. The moon bright but not full. I thought, Bless me, Selene.
Devon’s car was listing a little. In the shadows it looked like one of the tires was flat. I jumped up the steps and my key fit the keyhole and I turned the knob and the door opened.
Devon’s house was musty-smelling. Not nasty, but stale. Flat. Dark inside, though there were little blue lights flashing on the cable box.
I switched on my flashlight and looked around. The same mess as before. Pretty much—the couch had been shoved off some and I think the EMTs did that to get their gurney in and out. But everything else looked like it had before—even the four wineglasses on the coffee table.
I got out my phone and took a picture of the wineglasses and texted it to Lynnie. She quickly texted back
Annuit coeptis. I smiled. Lynnie’s favorite saying—the motto on the Great Seal of the United States—“[he] favors our enterprise.” Though I hadn’t heard her say it recently, not since Devon died. The past few weeks had been unfavorable.
I went down the hall to Devon’s bedroom. A sad place. The meat stench from the day of her death was gone, dissipated. Replaced by mustiness. In the white light from the flashlight I saw the bed was missing the sheets, and the stains on the mattress were just a pale brown.
I looked around for Devon’s phone. Not on the nightstand or on the mattress. The sheets and blankets were wadded up in a corner—I guess the EMTs chucked them there. I picked up the blanket with one hand and shook it out—nothing. Then the sheet, also nothing. But then I saw something against the far wall—Devon’s iPad. It must’ve tumbled there when the EMTs were tossing things around. She usually kept it close by her bed. I stuck the iPad in a messenger bag I had slung over my shoulder. For my purposes it was probably as good as the phone. I looked around once more. There was a framed picture of me on the bookcase in the corner. Jesus. What a sad bedroom.
I went across the hall to Devon’s office and sat at her desk. The computer was still on and the router lights were flashing blue. Nice. I joggled the mouse a couple of times and the computer woke up—with a screen photo of peaceful bison grazing in the Missouri park we’d visited. I clicked on into Windows and then I really wasn’t sure what to do. I stared at the screen for a moment or two, thinking of the ways Devon used her computer and also thinking how the people who probably killed her used computers. Modest competency on Devon’s part versus abject stupidity on theirs. And abject stupidity wins most of the time in this life—it has numbers, power, opportunity. I let out a sigh and opened Outlook and quickly saw that she not only had her gmail account set up but her SEKSU email as well. Nice. Emails began dropping into her inbox—most recent first, and just because she was dead didn’t stop the university from bombarding her with all kinds of silliness on the listserve—and not just the “university,” Courtney and Tee, too, they buried us in departmental emails. I noticed over one thousand emails in her delete folder, and I opened it and—yes—school emails from November, October, and September. A lot of them had attachments—and some of those, I saw, were from Fred. It looked like someone had deleted everything as of November 6 from the inbox but had forgotten to empty or hadn’t known to empty the folder. I selected all of them, everything, and forwarded them all to a Yahoo email account I’d set up for skullduggery.
Then I had another idea. I looked in the desktop recycling folder and it was packed, too—over a hundred .docx and .pdf files that someone had deleted but had neglected to empty. I selected those, too, and copied them to a flashdrive I had with me. I noticed a couple of Devon’s flashdrives sitting on the desk, and dropped them and mine into the messenger bag. I saw that Devon had an external hard drive, too, and I unplugged it and dropped it in the bag.
A nice haul, in almost no time.
I went back out through the front door and locked it behind me. The night was cool and clear and still. In case of trouble my plan had been to slip around the side of the house and plunge through the brush and across the creek, and somehow come out on the next street over. But there was no trouble. I hoisted the messenger back over my shoulder and walked back down the block to Lynnie’s car with my usual affected nonchalance—and when I got there, Lynnie and Sugar were gone.
Of course. Oh, Lynnie. I headed on down the street—all I had to do was cross the highway and cut around the high school and I’d be home. I could walk. Our undertaking was still favorable.
Then, “Hey, Tommy!”
I looked around and saw Lynnie way up the street by the big church, standing under a streetlight with Sugar and waving at me. I stood by the car. Lynnie ran up, and I could see her bright teeth smiling in the dark. She said, “Sugar had to poop.”
At the sight of Sugar, Fuzzhead jumped in panic to the top of a bookshelf and looked down at the crazy dog with big scared eyes.
“I feel ya, cat,” I said.
Lynnie led the dog through the kitchen and out to the garage, where we kept a dog bed and a pan of water and a food bowl for Sugar’s occasional visits. I went into my office. Devon’s emails were already dribbling into my Outlook. I tried to turn on Devon’s iPad, but it was dead dead dead. I went into my bedroom and plugged it into a charger. When I came back to the office, Lynnie was sitting staring at my computer.
“Man,” Lynnie said. “Your listserve puts out a lot of shit.”
“It never stops,” I said. That’s why I never got my university email on my Outlook or my phone—too much shit to wade through and delete. Devon didn’t either, at first, but after a while Tee and Courtney had bullied her into it—and now, I guess, I was glad she gave in.
I sat next to Lynnie. The emails kept trickling in—nothing important-looking and then--
“Hey,” I said. Something from an AOL email address, dated two weeks earlier. I clicked on it and it was a poem—a fragment, a line or two, of a poem.
You might have loved me a little too,
Had I been humbler for your sake.
“That looks familiar,” I said. Sort of like a rape poem.
“Creepy,” Lynnie said.
There was an attachment, a .jpg. I started to click on it--
“Might get a virus,” Lynnie said.
I clicked anyway and a picture opened in the photo previewer. A dong.
“Whoa!” Lynnie yelled. “Virus!”
It was the same big half-engorged dong that was in one of the scrapbook pictures. The one with the oozing red herpes sore. The one Sally showed me—the one she said belonged to Ted. A different picture, though—the oozing sore in this one looked a little less angry. But no less gross.
I asked, “What kind of pervert sends a picture of a diseased penis to a dead woman?”
“Yeah,” Lynnie said. “That’s even kind of sicker than sending one to a living woman.”
“Fuck Kansas,” I said. I got up and went to the kitchen and poured a couple of mugs of red wine. Fuzzhead was still up on the bookshelf, staring at me with big eyes.
“You hear me?” I asked the kitty. “I said fuck Kansas!”
Fuzzhead tilted his ears back and blinked.
“Two more came in!” Lynnie yelled. “And a third!”
I carried the mugs of wine back to the office. Lynnie sat looking—sick. This wasn’t a joke.
“I’m afraid to click on anything,” Lynnie said. “I might get a disease.”
“Yeah….” I sat and watched the screen. Emails kept dropping in—and then I saw one from Fred Van Buskirk. An email with an attachment. I clicked on it.
“What an arrogant piece of shit,” I said. Using his own email account—like nothing was ever going to happen to him. Like he was bulletproof. Like his dick was bulletproof.
But, well, he—and it--had been bulletproof, so far.
The email had some text:
You’ll be thinking about this in hell, you suicide whore.
Lynnie said, “Nice.”
I clicked on the attachment and a photo opened in the previewer, a big pasty pinkish gray cock, trying to be more or less erect. An older cock—there was a view of graying pubic hair.
“At least it’s not sick,” Lynnie said.
“You can’t tell just by looking at them,” I said.
“Dicks must be complicated.”
I laughed. “Actually—they are!”
But still. Fred was sending his junk out on university email. How crazy was that? He wasn’t even worried. Sally filed a complaint against him, and he kept sending that dick out. Devon filed a complaint against him and he kept sending it out. He was probably sending it to other people, too. His dick wasn’t complicated—it was crazy.
It was crazy because nothing happened to it, ever.
I mean, Southeast Kansas State was a university—a fucked up, ninth-rate university, but still a university, a place allegedly dedicated to learning and knowledge, a place allegedly governed by laws and statutes and—I don’t know—codes of fucking conduct. It wasn’t some Silicon Valley Hollywood Wall Street frat-boy pussy-grabbing freestyle patriarchy pervert startup—at least, it wasn’t supposed to be.
Why was Fred so confident?
“This isn’t right,” Lynnie said.
I got up and went to the bedroom. Devon’s iPad was charged enough to operate. I carried it back to the office and sat down and swiped it open. Devon didn’t have a password on it—most people I knew didn’t—and I went right in. I swiped right a couple of times and went to messages. She had it linked to her iPhone.
And—texts from a bunch of people. Most of them dated, it seemed like, a day or two after she died. But there—three contacts down, right above a text from me—Courtney Katherine Keadle.
I tapped on it. The last one, dated November 6.
We’ll be over at 1030 be awake ready to talk
“I don’t believe it,” Lynnie said.
“We’ve got ‘em,” I said. “All those fuckers.”
“Annuit coeptis.” Lynnie said. She took a big gulp of wine and swallowed. “I guess.”