Ick or Okay?


The other day, in the shrink’s waiting room, I picked up a woman’s magazine and took a quiz, “Ick or okay? When you’ve crossed the line.” The subject was online dating and the proper etiquette for stalking a love interest. Googling his name? Okay. Sifting through online photos, Amazon wish list items, public records for his condo sales price? Ick.

I passed. LOL.

It helps I’m a little technophobic. Digital footprints scare me. Anyway, analog methods work fine. That’s how many people get caught.

My methods: shoe leather and pavement. Like other private investigators, I also have binoculars, lock picks, a telephoto lens, disguises. Yes, a PI. I realize it’s the cliché of the wolf guarding the henhouse. When I chose this profession, I figured I had certain compulsions, why not make money from them? Everyone tells you to follow your passion. In my case, this has not been good advice.

Following my passion is how I’ve landed in this apartment, wearing a ridiculous wig and thigh-high boots, which I can’t wait to burn in an alley dumpster.

Maybe I should explain. I meet someone and want to know more. Okay, right? But somewhere around the intersection of Main and Central, I go off-road. I crave granular detail.

Ick, right? Except our DNA is hunter-gatherer. I’m a stalker-gatherer. Mostly.

I thought I’d seen everything. Most people are dull. The part I couldn’t believe, especially since we’d discussed commitment, was the six other women. How could a gainfully employed individual even manage the logistics?

Two apartments.

Apartment A. Tastefully appointed. Perfect for entertaining your future in-laws over roasted chicken and haricots verts.

Apartment B. Ick. Just because I’m bent doesn’t mean I accept the kinks of others.

Don’t get me wrong, I liked the other women. I’m still in touch with Jessica. We’ve become friends of sorts, the sort that have never met in person, the sort where one party doesn’t know the other’s real name.

We share some traits. Jessica gets attached too easily. She has trouble letting go.

But she was Apartment B, and I wasn’t. Apartment B is a dungeon. Perfect for Vlad the Impaler. Mouth gags, rack, torture chair, chains, cuffs.

Two apartments. Two online dating profiles.

The good girl/naughty girl dichotomy, as reflected in the two apartments, is retrograde. Of course, taste can’t be helped. I know this well. I’m surprised I stuck with the relationship after discovering Apartment B. I’m a germophobe. Given the amount of foot traffic, these floors must harbor staph, salmonella, pseudomonas.

In this petri dish, no one will notice if I contribute to the forensic landscape.

“What?” I ask.

He’s having trouble speaking through the mouth gag.

“You’re sorry?”

My face heats up. I was thinking out loud again. Sometimes I leak.

He lifts two fingers up.

“You want me to stop?”

The torture chair rocks slightly.

“We’ve reached your pain threshold.”

His eyes bulge. I’ll take that as a ‘yes.’

“You didn’t ask my consent about other women. You didn’t ask about my pain threshold. It’s low, by the way. Very low.”

I check my watch. Nine p.m. Time to go. But I wish he’d shut up.

“You want more oxygen? Of course you do.”

His two fingers wave wildly.

“I’m leaving but don’t worry. You’ll have company soon.”

I don’t tell him company will arrive too late. Everyone deserves to be found promptly, before fouling the air.

“Jessica is coming. One of your favorites. Your e-mail account invited her.”

He’s calling me names. None is my name. In this costume, he doesn’t seem to recognize me. Or, worse, he’s forgotten me. From a self-esteem perspective, this burns. From a murderous stalker vantage point, it is good news.

I head to the door. The neighbors may hear indistinct cries and knocking sounds. That’s common enough for Apartment B.

But an Apartment A type in Apartment B? Never. The police will take note.

It’s a shame about Jessica but it can’t be helped. She’ll be traumatized. She may become a suspect.

This will teach her not to get too attached. I wish I could learn that. It will be a good lesson for her. It will be okay.

~ fin ~

Dara Carr lives in Mount Rainier, Maryland. By day, she works on policy issues related to emerging pandemic threats. By night, she aims for a little levity. Her publication credits include a story, "When I'm Famous," in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and a novel on the way, Angela Cray Gets Real. You can find her, and the occasional tumbleweed, at www.daracarr.com.