Chapter NINE

The Club from Hell

a collaborative Squash novel for the Summer

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Chapter NINE, by The Squashist

John shot a gimlet gaze heavenward, eyeballing the gibbous moon shining through the barred window above his bed. Nice moon, he thought, and to think that we humans had once ventured there! The psychotropics coursing through his body encouraged him to dwell on this magnificent thought for a while as his eyes drifted back out of focus and his mind danced along the border of consciousness.

Ow, how his body ached!

And then he remembered. He had succeeded in giving a highly satisfying shellacking to that lunkhead Gerry. Using a squash stroke that would have made an excellent volley kill, he bonked the crusty old dolt upside his head. But he didn’t stop there. Oh, no sir. As Gerry stood dazed by this attack, John then used the squash racket in his hand as an epee, pointing it at Gerry’s bewildered face and stabbing it at his rather large proboscis. When Gerry bent low to fend off the continued assault, John kneed him full force in the stomach, and down he went.

John, that is, not Gerry, because the dullard Frank, still lumbering around the club pretending to do odd jobs while trying to avoid killing people, had seen the commotion, and in a sudden upwelling of long-dormant athleticism tackled John with a flying leap that sent John’s head smacking to the ground, knocking him well and truly out. Someone called the cops, and by the time the ugly mess was sorted out, Gerry was sent home with a bit of acetaminophen, Frank was lauded by the cops for potentially stopping a homicide, and John was carted back to the psych facility, where he was isolated and dosed up with calming agents.

The admitting psychiatrist, Dr. Abdel Funk, surmised that John, who not too long ago had tried to do himself harm, had now transferred the focus of his enmity to others, and by so doing had become a threat to society. Dr. Funk, an unapologetic proponent of pharmacologic intervention, concocted a mind-numbing stew of psychotropics for John’s benefit in the rather unscientific hope that one of them might possibly help his patient. He started with an antipsychotic, for signs of mania, and then added a newer atypical antipsychotic for good measure. He threw in a tricyclic, since there were clearly signs of depression, and thought, what the hell, he seems anxious, let’s dose him up with an anxiolytic. And even though obsessionality didn’t seem to be too prevalent, he also wrote a prescription for an anti-obsessive agent, mostly because the pharmaceutical rep who regularly visits his office had promised him an iPad if he wrote a certain number of scripts this quarter. He was damn close.

The next day, in the quiet of the morning, Dr. Funk visited John, whose head was buzzing from the drug cocktail and whose resultant lethargy was reminiscent of a heroin addict’s overwhelming lassitude. The good Dr. Funk introduced himself and explained the drug regimen to his unwilling guest: “I’ve prescribed a few drugs for you that will make you more calm and allow you to rest and recover from the mental perturbation you have lately undergone,” he said, smiling winningly.

“Fuck you, Funk,” John said, slurring his words, while still managing an unmistakable hint of conviction. With that, Dr. Funk exited the room and wrote in John’s chart: “Patient shows continued aggression and clear tendencies to violence. Increase all script doses up 10 mg.”

The next day, burdened by a brain that seemed more cotton ball than functioning intellectual center, he was wheeled into the day room, where the other patients were assembled. A TV was on, but few had the wherewithal to watch. Most were perseverative and quiet islands of dysfunction, with the exception of a fellow named Rodney, who felt no shame in enthusiastically masturbating in a corner, and a guy named Suzy – well, that’s what he insisted his name was, anyway – who carried on a rather interesting conversation with his good buddy, God. This proved fascinating for John, who listened in as intently as his condition allowed, and became more interested as the conversation went on because, he had to admit, he never truly believed in Him, and here He was talking to Suzy. Wow, I wonder if He might talk to me too? John asked Suzy to perhaps provide an introduction, but the latter violently explained that he was the son of God and the Father only talks to him! Suzy was led away gently by the staff, in restraints, shouting godly epithets.

It might have been a day or two later, or maybe three, but the good Dr. Funk eventually arrived in John’s room to inspect his case. “John, how are you feeling? I know you have been angry lately, but I’m hoping you’ve been able to relax a bit and enter into a calmer state.”

“Funk you, fuck,” John slurred, and dropped his head back onto his pillow.

Wow, thought the good Dr. Funk, he’s one tough nut, as crazy as a hoot owl. “Titrate all meds up 10 mg more,” he wrote in the chart.

Does time really heal all wounds? Nah, highly doubtful, but the near coma that had been prescribed to John eventually allowed Dr. Funk to loosen his pharmaceutical straightjacket in the belief that John’s vacant stare indicated resurgent calm. The drug regimen was eased to the point where John was able to crawl out of the cobwebs that had entombed him and rejoin sentient society. He asked for a newspaper, started fretting about his fractured family, and thought about that glorious day when he could leave the hospital.

Before that day arrived, however, he received a visitor, the first since his incarceration.

=========================

“Hiya, John Smith, sorry to interrupt you, but I’m working with Angus Murray and…”

John was confused. “Who the hell is Angus Murray? And who are you?”

“Me? I’m Bianca. Bianca Phipps. I was hired by Angus, you remember him, don’t you? He’s the private dick that’s out looking for Jessica.”

“What?! Is this sexual?”

“No, no…. I know you’re tired….” She rolled her eyes. “Your wife Jill has got a private eye looking for Jessica. The dick thing is American slang. You do remember Jessica, don’t you?” she asked doubtfully.

Oh yeah, now I remember, thought John. That expensive private eye that Jill’s rich boyfriend hired, and who has done nothing as far as he could tell. “Yeah, I remember,” John said, readjusting his butt in his chair. “Okay, I got it, sorry… But who are you?”

“Well, as of just recently I’m Angus’ assistant. I met him 10 days ago when he came to Massachusetts to follow-up a hot lead in the case. It seems that your son, Sam, got a call at the Aullt Academy from his sister. She seemed frantic. The school notified the local police, a guy named Hack Thomas. I worked at the town paper and made it a habit of bugging Hack to drum up local stories. So when Angus arrived the next day, I was there and listened in on the conversation.”

John stared at this Bianca girl. She seemed awfully young, and the streak of red hair and nose ring did not give the greatest impression. Plus there was a large tattoo of indeterminate design around the stylized words, “Girls Rock.” John decided not to mention that. “So how did you get involved?” he asked.

“Well, as I was listening in, it became apparent that they would not be able to trace the call, so other than the fact that she told her brother she was in New York and was undeniably alive, not much else was learned. Hack and Angus seemed stumped. But I chimed in with a few ideas.”

“Like?”

“I figured that the best way to trace her would be through some kind of social media, so I suggested a full-on trolling of Twitter and Facebook for starters. For whatever reason people just can’t shut the hell up nowadays, so whenever something interesting happens they throw it out into the universe for all to see. I thought we might be able to trace an IP address if we could find something, and Hack said it’s possible to get a court order to force either company to reveal specific user information if a crime has been suspected. And in this case, a crime is suspected, since according to Sam she appeared to be held under duress.”

“Really…? Poor Jessica, and poor Sam.”

“Angus liked my ideas and hired me on the spot, and I and a friend hit the social media world full time. We’ve been tweeting and facebooking for a solid week now. Honestly, I thought I’d puke. The idea was to focus on squash and fashion, because those seemed to be the two things your daughter was most interested in. Would you agree?”

“Yeah, I guess so. You might throw boys in that mix, but those are good choices.”

“Well, we think we might have a lead, so that’s the good news. But Angus wanted me to come here and ask you personally, Why do you think your daughter would want to run away?”

“Run away? I thought you said she was under duress. Doesn’t that mean she was abducted?”

“No. Our feeling is that she went willingly, but whoever she went with may now either be holding her against her will or at least making it hard for her to return.”

John blinked. The cotton balls in his brain were not entirely gone. “I don’t understand….”

“I’ll explain as best I can. But first, any guess as to why she would run away?”

“No, not at all. She was a happy kid. A little high-strung, of course. They say redheads are born that way. She complained a lot, but nothing major, just the usual griping about this and that that kids all do. She was very motivated in her sport, but that could lead to trouble from time to time, since she could get angry in matches and act like a brat. But no, all in all, she seemed fine to me.”

“And her relationship with you?”

“Fine. Not a problem, and she got along perfectly well with her twin Sam.”

“And her mother?”

“Well, I think all in all pretty good. There was perhaps a little friction there. Jill got on her case pretty heavily from time to time about how she dressed, her occasionally bratty behavior, her obsession with her cell phone, stuff like that. Mothers and daughters can attack one another like feral cats from time to time, that’s part of the deal.”

“Man, don’t I know it. But go on.”

“And for her part, Jessica had started complaining a fair amount about how we were never around, always at the club, she said. The ‘club from fucking hell’ is what she called it – so did I, for that matter. She loved her squash, but she emphatically did not like our involvement in the squash club. Didn’t like having mom and dad hanging around her all the time while she played her matches, either.”

“Ah, I see,” said Bianca. “So do you think it is possible that growing friction with her mother plus the stress of club ownership might have pushed this young girl to do something as drastic as running away? Keeping in mind the hormonal rush of the early teen years; the hyperfocus on friends and appearances; the inability to think things through beyond the most immediate of gratifications; the possibility that she met, quite likely online, someone whose life and looks so overwhelmed her that she decided to take the leap….”

John thought about it a moment. The truth was that Jessica was very voluble. Yes, he realized, it was possible.

=========================

Meanwhile, back in the U.S., Angus had returned to Massachusetts where he was staying at Hack’s house, which had become their center of operations. He had been to New York City and had spoken to the NYPD’s cybercrimes unit. They had reviewed Bianca’s findings with the sergeant there who had agreed that, yes, they might have something. To go ahead, however, they had to get the court to force Twitter and Facebook to reveal identities that they normally would not wish to reveal. That would take money, and not a little time.

But Angus solved that problem with a call to his employer, Steve Dwyer. Steve’s extensive business holdings in the U.S. had made him quite a few contacts and his money seemed limitless. Steve said he would get his lawyers working on an emergency injunction immediately, and to sit tight back in Massachusetts awaiting instructions.

Angus could sit tight with the best of them. Particularly in the company of a very good Scottish single malt whisky. He had developed an abiding interest in the Speyside whisky brands, including Cragganmore, Fettercairn, Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, Mortlach, and Speyburn. Mmmm. And Hack was a good man to hang out with.

Angus poured a few fingerfuls, no ice, and sat back on Hack’s couch. “Hack, we’ve not much to do now, have we? We’ll have to hope and pray the damn lawyers can pull through on this one.”

Hack nodded. “True. And that’s what worries me.”

“Well, I’m sure Dwyer’s got some good ones.”

“Are there good ones then? Was unaware of that fact.”

“Hah, that’s funny, Hack. Have a bit of me Speyside, will ye?”

Hack didn’t just then, but against the onslaught of Angus’ whisky-fueled bonhomie, he broke down eventually. And so it was that eight years of sober living went glug-glug.

=========================

Back at the sanitarium, John stared at Bianca. “So you think she went willingly, but something’s gone wrong with the plan and now she’s being held against her will?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“You started by saying you had a lead. What is it?”

“Well, in order to track someone on social media, you really have to know them. We brought in Sam and had extensive interviews with him about her interests, how she acted, what internet sites she frequented, how she talked and wrote, that kind of thing. We had a ton of data. We quickly realized that the fashion world was too big and with minimal time we would be better off focusing on squash, so that’s what we did. Anything and everything about squash, we saw. Nothing seemed to click, but then a few days ago we had a tweet and a Facebook posting that told us something. Check these out.”

Bianca passed two papers over to John with a big, American, perfectly white and nicely orthodontured smile. “The breakthrough boils down to one word: Weetabix. See, this is a tweet from someone named ‘Alexivan’, who says: ‘My secret weetabix girl played a hard match and rocked. Maybe, if she’s good, we’ll reveal her to the world!’ And then here’s a Facebook page, owned by the anonymous ‘Asquashpro,’ who said this: ‘Had a good workout today with a talented client whose squash gets better and better. She is a fiery competitor, fueled by great squash instincts and her favorite food, weetabix. She’s ready for top competition.’ Well, we did our research, and those IP addresses are coming from the New York area. And Weetabix, your daughter’s favorite whole wheat biscuit cereal treat, is not at all common in those parts. We are convinced those two messages are about your Jessica.”

“Wow. Who knew?” said John. “Call me crazy but I always hated the stuff…. Thank heaven for Weetabix.”

About The Squashist

The Squashist is a Swede trapped in an American body. He has played squash since the age of 15, following the classical route of prep school to Ivy League to squash monomaniac. He spends his days as the editorial director of a medical publishing company in New York City and his nights dreaming of being born anew with uncomplaining knees.

He is a published short fiction writer who is far too scatter-brained to ever complete a novel. Ever since George W. Bush was infamously elected to a second term he has adopted an emergency exit strategy that requires him to learn Swedish, from the land of his mother’s birth, which is why he is currently engaged in obtaining a Certificate in Scandinavian Languages at NYU.

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