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The Urge to Know

Updated on December 5, 2009

Creeps Walk Amongst Us

Ever thought about this one: You are leaving some place, then moving to another. Your focus is on what is right in front of you, right behind you, and to your immediate side. The place you have left will have to fade to give room for what comes next. Only this time it doesn't. You are plagued by constant focus on what is ongoing at the place you left behind, it is like a part of your soul just wouldn't let go. And what if this trend continues, if you have lost your ability to let go of things left behind. Soon you will be living in many worlds simultaneously, and when this stops working you will be paralyzed and unable to do anything.

This isn't really possible, of course, because things will change in the other environment and soon any possible combinations will extend beyond one's imagination. "Out of sight, out of mind," one says, and that is probably a practical thing for that very reason. Except there are those select few who are unwilling to leave things at that, they cannot let go and become compulsive instead. Among their ranks we'll find candidates for "the genuine stalker."

It was nothing more at first, really, than the urge to know what was going on. Had it not been so that until now there had never been any issue with many things, but now these were beginning to pop up to the surface with increasing intensity. What is she doing? Where will she be going next? Who might she be talking to, and about what? Why is she so slow to pick up the phone?

So he'd ask: "What have you been up to, lately?" - just like that, real casual. And she'd tell him what she'd been up to, but only to the extent she felt comfortable with it, of course. He was too wise to show his cards, so he bit his tongue and did not go on and on - not at first. Instead, he fed her little intimacies and trivial details about himself, hoping to gain her confidence this way.

It seemed to be working for awhile, up to a point. She was working part-time and had a good deal of time to spend, didn't mind chatting with him for 15-20 minutes every day. To her that was about enough, to him it felt like torture, because it gave him most of the day to wonder about what she might have been up to when not talking to him, and there just wasn't enough phone time to get all the details.

The lack of details wasn't just a time issue. She wasn't reserved or anything, but she wasn't particularly open either. Once she had set her mind to that she did not want to talk about something or that she did not want to go further into detail, she stuck to it. He could try to push or persuade her all he wanted, she didn't budge.

He had learned that her kitchen floor was in need of repair, but the landlord was slow to do anything about it. So he said he had this friend who was in the flooring business, he'd be happy to have this guy come over take a look. "Oh, you're just so sweet!" she'd say, but she didn't want to take him up on the offer. Not at first, anyway. Eventually, she caved in. Not that he had such a friend, of course, he just put on blue overalls and a fake mustache, then came over to her apartment on the Upper East Side. She let him inside, thanked him for coming, didn't recognize his face because she'd never seen him before. Didn't recognize his voice, either, because he had been screaming and shouting all morning to make his voice hoarse to the point of being almost inaudible. "I'll fix this," he almost whispered, then got to work.

When he left about two hours later, he had installed wireless cameras three places. One in the living room, one in the kitchen, and one in the bedroom. Not perfect, but better than nothing all the same. He didn't want to peak or anything, certainly he was no peeping Tom, no pervert. He merely wanted to know what she was up to.

The images kept on flowing in. These images were to him annoying beyond description, still he couldn't stop them from coming, not because he wanted to be annoyed but because he felt the urge to be overwhelmed. With all of this video and audio feedback flowing in, there had been a period of fulfillment, even excitement, now that he knew so much more about what she had been up to since their last telephone conversation. He could even see her while they were talking if she was within reach of any of the three cameras. The most difficult thing at first had been how not to reveal that he knew much more about her than she was aware of, and sometimes he asked questions that presupposed some knowledge, because he just couldn't help it. He noticed a bit of surprise in her voice, then backed off, and soon it seemed like it was forgotten. Surely he'd have to remind himself not to do this very often. Then he became very good at that. Instead of asking her directly, he'd happen to come across and touch upon those subjects that he knew would interest her, because he now knew all about the television programs, radio programs, magazines, and newspapers she were consuming. He already knew about her computer and email activity, of course, having installed spyware remotely a long time ago. He'd even hacked into her webcam, which she tended to leave on for days on a string.

All of that was very well, and it had created a baseline of contentment, because he no longer had to speculate so much about what she did in her private sphere. What she did at work didn’t concern him much, she worked at a restaurant that had some exposure to the street, and all he’d have to do was walk by from time to time, then take a good look through the windows. Then he’d see her taking orders, bringing food, clearing tables, bringing checks – what else could she do? He wondered a great deal about what was going on when she went out of sight to the employees’ area; was she talking to her colleagues or flirting with her boss? It bothered him a great deal, so he tried not to think about that. But the cameras eventually took care of most of that annoyance as well, because they picked up her phone conversations and email correspondence about work, which gradually enabled him to put the pieces of that part of the jigsaw puzzle together. In conclusion, she was doing nothing exceptional at work; it was quite a bore, really.

The webcam and three wireless cameras all sent feedback through her computer to his, where he would receive it continuously at all times, day or night. He had several monitors and computers at home. He also had a 42 inch TV in his living room and a 30 inch TV in his bedroom, both of which were connected wirelessly to the computers. He could watch all four channels of incoming video as a picture-in-picture kind of thing, which provided convenient overview, then zoom in at whatever he wanted to check out more closely. If he liked, he could also send either channel to one of the large screen TVs or to any of his computer monitors. He basically had it worked out so that the largest monitor attached to his main computer would give him a picture-to-picture view, and the other three computer monitors plus the two TVs would focus on the feedback from her webcam and computer feedback or one of the wireless cameras he had installed in her apartment.

Setting this up had been no big deal, nothing overly technical, but getting used to processing the feedback had been difficult. In a way, what she did and said was so trivial, there could be so long in between any surprises or fun stuff, but in a way it was all so very relevant. Not in itself, no, but because any of her activities were like tiny little pieces in the jigsaw puzzle. Put it all together, and there you have it, a complete picture of her life, her body, and her soul, right?  

Wrong! Because some people just aren’t created that way. She was dull and predictable at work, perhaps, but at home she’d be doing things he simply couldn’t predict or decipher no matter how hard he tried. Like she’d call her best friend and chat with her four hours, sometimes talking gossipy or laughing at jokes that didn’t seem funny at all, at other times intimately and reflective, changing the subject over and over, each of them finding no trouble following each other’s thoughts, apparently. He had listened in one these conversations while they were occurring, and subsequently he had replayed them over and over without becoming much wiser. So it became a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle, which seemed to be growing more incomplete by the day. Then he understood that if he wanted to solve these elements, he’d have to know much more about the people in her life, from the past and present – her family and friends. If he understood what they were up to, it would be more like a level playing field, then he’d have a fair shot at understanding what the hell these people were talking about under the radar screen.  

The shrewd predator knows that interaction equals exposure, which equals risk. The shrewd predator is risk-adverse, for him it is a waiting game, he who can endure the longest and wait out his prey will reap the rewards. Getting to know her family and friends presented a monumental challenge, a road full of pitfalls and potholes. He pretty much knew who they were, each and every one of them, including where they lived and worked, their marital status. She was from a rather large family, and regularly talked with several of her relatives – getting to know them one by one was a task too difficult and much too risky. Instead, he had to find some way of setting up aliases, and each of these had to offer something that would make them indispensable to one or more relatives. They would have to come to him, in other words, not the other way around. But no matter how well he arranged this, he’d have to beware of the probability that they would be talking to one another, a new person in their lives was bound to be mentioned sooner rather than later.

What he found out about this family was that they were all working class, not particularly well to do. This being Detroit, many of them were associated with the auto industry one way or the other. Some had been laid off. Money was to them a major concern, judged by their telephone conversations and email correspondence. They were constantly lending money to one another, swapping information about special offers and discounts, borrowing each other’s clothes, complaining about inflation and sharing experiences of having been ripped off. From what he understood, many of this branch of the family tree were awaiting some inheritance from an aunt who had died about a year ago and left a will that was now the subject of dispute. A different branch situated in Chicago claimed more than its fair share, it seemed, and now the Detroit relatives were taking the matter to court. They had to pay out-of-pocket costs and fees to a lawyer, a major concern, but the potential rewards were considerable as the estate ran into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Their money consciousness would have to be the answer to his problem, Jack decided.

Whatever one might have to say about Jack, he wasn’t money conscious, nor was he poor in resources. He was innovative and restless, to him making money was more like a hobby than work. A born multi-tasker, he’d rather spend a weekend solving problems for three different clients than take his son to the zoo. A computer engineer, he had been working for IBM and Oracle until a few years back, when he decided he could make more money as a freelancer. He had been right about that, many of the major corporations would call upon him for assistance when they had problems that required troubleshooting. His specialty was the correlation between software and hardware, he had built compilers and decompilers that could scan through thousands of lines of codes an hour to detect bugs. Then he’d run another test on the hardware, make minor software tweaks, coordinate any hardware modifications and so on and so forth until the damn thing worked. For IBM and Oracle, outsourcing that type of work to his company was cheaper than asking their staff to do it themselves, so he had been making quite a bundle.

All he had to do now was to contact the lawyer who represented the Detroit branch of the heirs, offering to set up a trust fund to bail them out so to speak. He would buy their interest in the claim for 95 percent on the dollar, simple as that. If the lawsuit prevailed, he’d make a 5 percent return on his investment – a ridiculously low amount considering that he’d end up with a significant loss if the lawsuit was lost. The lawyer was flabbergasted, because she couldn’t understand the basis for Jack’s interest in the matter.

He told her that he was a strawman for a third person, some wealthy retired auto industry executive who preferred to be anonymous so as to better be able to help auto workers in times of need. Before recommending his client would actually buy the claim, Jack would have to communicate a bit with each of the heirs via email to make sure that this was really what they wanted to do. He had set up a separate email account and website for that purpose.

The lawyer wasn’t happy about it, too much secrecy for her taste, but she had no other choice but send out his offer to all of the clients, warning them to be cautious in dealing with Jack. Soon, the emails started flowing in. Some were cordial, others suspicious nearly to the point of being hostile. He dealt skillfully and patiently with each and every one, soft-pedaling it one might say, knowing that as a true predator he would have to wait them out. The lawyer received copies of all email correspondence between himself and each of the others, but that did not bother him, because what was far more important was what the relatives were saying about this situation to each other. Now that he could communicate with them, and also pick up what they were saying to each other through his hacking, he was coming to know them pretty well – and that in almost no time and at very little expense.

Would he end up buying their inheritance claim? Hell no! He’d find some pretext to back out the last minute when they had no more to give him. Afterwards, he’d relish in sucking in their anger and hatred as it flowed through his computer network.

All of those things had long since passed. Using straw men had been very successful, he had learned about her relatives all things worthwhile knowing without too much risk or trouble and at little expense. It had given temporary relief, certain things had even been settled permanently, but other - and more delicate - pieces of the jigsaw puzzle remained unsolved.

She had this girlfriend, Sandy, with whom she chatted no end, they were obviously close, their relationship seemingly opaque. He couldn't very well ask her about Sandy, because she didn't know that he was aware of her existence. He had asked her about her friends, of course, and while she had said she had many good friends and mentioned a few names, the name Sandy had never crossed her sweet lips. That had made him jealous and highly suspicious, and this to the point that he had archived and analyzed every second, every sound bite of their phone conversations. Still, it wasn't enough, because they spoke of things he did not understand, shifting seamlessly among a myriad of subjects, laughing inwardly. Worst of all, they were making fun of him, mocking him. His name had soon come up, first she had mentioned "this guy who keeps calling me" and "this dude I happened to meet, I think he may be in love with me," and after awhile they had been started using his name.

Family and work were the safe zones, girlfriend Sandy wasn't. He left the living room, where replays of their girls chat were in full swing, and went to the kitchen. Opened the refrigerator, which was well-stocked like always, found a bottle of milk. "Kitty, kitty, kitty," he said in a high-pitched voice. Three cats came running, soon they stood by his feet and looked up at him, miawing and spining, licking their mouthes. "Cut me some slack, now will 'ya?" he said, then unscrewed the cap and spilled a few drops of milk on the stone floor. The cats started licking it up. "Come, come, come!" he said, and the cats followed him to the bedroom.
He went up the bed. Sandy was lying there, a big woman she was, her long brown hair all untidy, her face swollen and red underneath the thick layer of cloth he had used to gag her. He had meticulously tied her hands and feet to the bedpost, leaving her undressed apart from her underwear. "Like I said, I'm no pervert," he had told her late last night as he put her to bed.

"I just need to know, that's all."

"So what does Gumbo mean?" he now asked. "Remember what I told you this morning: Blink twice if you are prepared to tell me, three times if you are unable or unwilling to give me a clear answer. Twice means yes, thrice means no."

She blinked thrice.

"Well now," he continued, "so you mean to tell me that you don't even know what Gumbo means?"

She blinked twice.

"Okay then, that makes you a fucking liar. You are fat, ugly, and a fucking liar!"

He went up to the bed, and started sprinkling milk on her chest, arms, and legs. The cats, who had been starved for the occasion, immediately jumped up on the bed and started licking her body aggressively, spinning and humming as they went along. She moaned, twisted and turned, but to no avail.

"I'll be back," he said upon having emptied the bottle on her stomach. "And don't you forget, I really must know what Gumbo means."


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