Girls selling their virginity online is almost commonplace. It doesn’t exactly happen all the time. But when it does it’s a known enough reality that little explanation is required.
This was not one girl selling her virginity.
This was seventy-two women selling themselves for a full week of Jannah—a sensual paradise the successful Muslim bidder would not have to blow himself up to experience. The UCLA students ranged in age from 21 to 30. While they had no certification of their surely dubious virginity their ad included pictures of seventy-two distinctly different vaginas which served as a decent distraction. Additionally there were pictures of the mansion to be rented and the plans for the creation of a bedroom appropriate to the dedicated carnal purpose. While Islamic scholars know that the penis of a man who has entered Jannah through glorious death is forever erect, absent such immortal hardness the women also provided proof that they were ready with many small blue prayers.
The ad was up for three days.
It has created an international crisis. Devout Muslims are printing copies of the ad out, burning the paper produced and destroying the printers that produced them. And they are of course torching American flags because that’s why they buy them in bulk. CNN, Fox and MSNBC have fourteen minutes of outrage from the UCLA campus and comparable bastions of intellectual freedom in the middle east on constant replay.
Debra Daw was the spokeswomen for the seventy-two. Interviewed by CNN hours before the situation turned bad, she was coy as she explained that the conception of the ad, the coverage of the reaction and the potential fulfillment of the offer were all part of a group doctoral dissertation in Women’s Studies. She told Wolf Blitzer it was a sad joke yes but also quite real. If anyone bid over five million dollars all seventy-two women would make themselves available for sex during the promised week. They were willing to do this, to prostitute themselves so publicly, to raise money for a charity fighting female genital mutilation in Islamic states. She informed Wolf that the seventy two were accomplishing a radical deconstruction of the oppressive Islamic male structure of gender tyranny.
The sad joke part is over now. All the Women’s Studies students have gone into hiding and the UCLA Faculty has suspended academic activity until further notice. There are daily bomb threats on campus. There are fires, fights.
Debra Daw’s body turned up this morning, violated, burnt.
The names of the other seventy-one women will come out. And when they do none of them will be safe. Understanding this, an estranged father has hired me to find his daughter and give her a new identity.
Locating her takes me three hours. I call the UCLA Registrar first as a reporter, then as her father, then as an LAPD detective and lastly as one of her professors. Each call secures the information that makes the next call believable. This practiced social engineering routine gets me a list of students in her program. I work through the names looking for open Facebook accounts. I compromise two fully public accounts protected with weak passwords. This is enough for me to come at Sally’s closed information. I tweak a program I bought last year that ranks her social media interaction with her friends. I run these names through the big public databases to get addresses and phone numbers.
I create a target list and start racing around LA in the 911. I make the calls with my Bluetooth as I shift, accelerate and heel-toe in the corners. Many of the numbers are for cellphones and not landlines. This is a general trend. But the basic approach still works. I ask for Sally and then gauge the level of confusion and/or deception from the women who answer.
I deduce that Sally is staying with a friend in a small house on Johnston Street. The watching eyes of Montecito Heights are mostly Latino. There are no bars in this neighborhood and few eateries. The real estate prices are confused but parking is abundant and I don’t feel too worried about leaving the 911 on the street in this twilight. I come from two blocks away and walk back and past the house.
I know Sally drives a blue four door Civic. I see it now parked in the drive.
I return to the 911, sit, and grab a bag from the backseat. My preferred brand of GPS tracker can transmit for about a week before it dies. I take one out now, check the charge and turn it on. I bring up the tracking application on my MacBook Pro. There’s a map of LA and there is the pin for our location. I wipe the device off with my shirt, slip on plastic gloves and rest it on my leg for a second. Next from the bag I take a roll of industrial strength tape. I pull a length and bite it off with my teeth. I position the GPS unit in the middle of the tape so the edges are like wings.
I climb back out of the 911 and return to the house. I stop behind the Civic, do a quick scan to check for witnesses, and then drop to my knees. I reach under the bumper with my free hand and feel around for a good place. I outline a lip of surface about right. I put the hand with the tracker underneath. The trick is to place it with enough pressure to stick the tape but not enough to trigger the car alarm if there is one. I place the device, hold, push and gently rub the tape.
Then I standup and go right to the front door. I knock.
There was talking behind the door. It has stopped.
I wait a minute. And then knock again.
The door opens just enough for the chain. Sally’s friend’s face is there.
“I’m looking for Sally.”
“She’s not here. I said that when you called. Whoever you . . . look she’s not here.”
“My name is Chalk. I’m a Private Investigator. I was hired by her father to set her up with a new identity and give her a chance of escaping her pronounced death sentence.”
The friend goes to repeat the lie but just exhales with frustration instead.
“I understand she’s scared of coming out.”
The friend is pulled away and Sally is there in the sliver of inside. She looks at me, shuts the door and takes the chain off. Now she opens the door fully. She crosses her arms. “I don’t need my father’s help.”
“If you come with me. If you cooperate with me. I can have you set up with a new name, a new backstory, and a new future within a week.”
“Why should I have to give up on my life?”
“You shouldn’t. But this is the reality. The life you’re living now is going to end soon. Get away from it and you can live as someone else.”
“This murderous furor makes our point.”
“But it’s always the same point, isn’t? Religious intolerants don’t have a sense of humor about their religious intolerance. Do you really want to die proving something so obvious?”
“Come with me now and—”
“They’re not going to kill all of us. Salman Rushdie is still alive. Those cartoonists from Denmark are still alive. The media is blowing everything out of proportion. It will die down.”
“If it does then you can return to LA and be Sally again. It happens in the Witness Protection sometimes.”
“Be a coward and then maybe get to return as a hero? None of the other women are going to do that.”
“I don’t know if the other women have rich fathers. You do. Take advantage.”
“He thought I would just come?”
“No. He told me you wouldn’t come.”
“He’s right. I’m not coming.”
“It seems that way. Now. I’ll be back.”
“He told you to just keep coming back and harassing me?”
“He told me to keep coming back and trying.”
“What’s going to change?”
“More women will be murdered.”
This stops the assault of angry words.
I let the silence stretch.
“There’s a lot more to what has happened than people know,” Sally says.
“There usually is. I keep focused on what I’ve been hired to accomplish.”
“I’m only staying here for now. I’ve got a better place to hide … while I …”
She doesn’t finish that thought.
“You won’t find me again.”
“We both know that I will.”
I nod formally, turn and return to the 911. I drive to a Subway and then a Starbucks. I sit in my cockpit watching the map on the Mac’s screen. Sally’s car does not move from its parked location.
After a second coffee I drive home for the night.
I take my meds and I sleep.
I wake up later than I intended and check on the GPS. Sally’s car hasn’t moved yet. I make a quick breakfast and down some coffee to get going. I get dressed and head down to the parking garage.
I don’t make it Montecito Heights before she starts moving. I converge on her GPS signal until I’m following her and I follow her into Westwood. Westwood, safe old Westwood. One minor battle in 1988 proving the exception, Westwood is one of LA’s least likely places to get winged by a gang bullet.
The Playboy Mansion is the Disney Castle in Westwood. It stands in Holmby Hills, a pleasure palace from an age when lingerie was pornography. Larry Flynt expanded the horizons of smut but there would have been no Hustler without Hef. And when he dies the good old man will be buried in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery right next to Marilyn Monroe.
I track Sally until she parks in an open lot. I park illegally on the street and follow her on foot. I trail her entering an office tower filled with production companies. She travels up to the sixth floor. Arriving just behind in the next elevator, I clock her entering Jazz Productions.
I return to street level, get back in the 911 and sit with my hazards on.
Watching the front entrance of the office tower I turn to the keyboard and start learning what I can about Jazz Productions. It’s a small company—conceived entirely by one reality TV genius.
Morris Wilson came to LA to be in a band. He couldn’t play an instrument so he grabbed the microphone. But singing is hard so he started yelling and screaming and that led to stupid antics like smashing bottles over his head and diving into the crowd. By the time the classic line up of Down Syndrome Sucker fell apart he was basically a clown without a nose. At parties, at clubs, the teenager mold growing on surfaces expected him to be dangerous and whacky. Drinking Wild Turkey helped a lot, as it does. A friend of a friend of a drug dealer of an ex-boyfriend named Chet heard of him and they met up. Chet was a producer putting together a Jackass style show which in Hollywood means Jackass, you know, up until the point where we’re going to be sued.
Morris became Jazz.
I get this from an interview Jazz did with a tattoo magazine.
I get this from an article in The Atlantic about the end of culture.
I get this from a Variety piece on the coming wave of worse reality television.
Jazz has recently worked up a television game show called Would You Fuck Her? or as it will appear if it ever gets picked up: Would You F*$! Her? It’s an intellectual concept with cheap production values. The pitch is to send small camera crews to open public locations where women can be observed walking, eating, talking on their phones, casually existing. While the edited location video is playing the three show regulars and a C-list guest celebrity provide play-by-play. These bros among bros ask each other the philosophical question of the title: Would You Fuck Her? Initially this is just general banter. But then the game starts. Each round each gentleman must pick one woman from the scene that he would indeed fuck. They choose in a determined order and no bro can pick the same ho. First one and then more and more of the women on display are actually transvestites. When a guy picks a transvestite he’s out. This continues until there is one player left or all the women on display are transvestites. Saying you would fuck a dude is the perfect short circuit of the stoned frat mind but Jazz and his producers are spitballing other wildcards: women with STDs, women with children, women who are religious.
Several networks are considering this show.
Jazz does not seem like the kind of guy Sally would brake for let alone know. Sally comes back out after an hour, retrieves her Civic and drives away. Knowing I can catch up with my main quarry anytime I need to, I pay to park in the same lot she is leaving and I head up to Jazz Productions. Jazz himself is hurrying out just as I step off the elevator.
I know him from his picture but he doesn’t know me.
I get back in the elevator and mumble an excuse to go back down.
We ride the elevator without speaking. He exits the building and takes to the street on foot. I trail at a distance. He walks to the front of the Fox Theatre and stands looking around.
He sees me but he doesn’t see me.
Another man shows up. This man is wearing an expensive suit that identifies him as a money man. Jazz is freaked out, flapping his arms. The money man makes a phone call that mollifies his creative partner for the moment.
They part company.
Jazz is hurrying back to his office as I step into him hard and lift his cellphone in a practised grab. In a fast instant he’s pissed, suspicious and then angry and on his way.
I let him go.
His phone is a Samsung. I take out the SIM and throw the phone to a homeless guy sitting cross legged with a cardboard sign that reads: “Will give actors notes on playing poor characters for food.”
Back in the 911, I get a charged Android device from a bag full of them and put in Jazz’s SIM. I check the GPS on the screen and start following Sally again. I don’t have to wait long for someone to call Jazz.
I answer on speaker.
Air and then: “Jazz. Morris. Jazz. . . . Asshole. Your Bluetooth isn’t paired or something. . . . Jazz. You pocket answered idiot. . . . Morris you moron. I’m calling you back.”
The call clicks off and the phone rings again. I answer on speaker again.
“Jazz. Jazz. Jazz.”
I don’t know what Jazz’s voice sounds like and I’m not that good at impressions but anger is sometimes enough to disguise a voice. “I can hear you shithead I’m just driving!”
“I can’t get the fucking . . . the fucking. I’ll call you back in a—”
“You’re not Jazz.”
“I’ll call you back.” I end the call.
The next call displays as Jazz Productions. I answer on speaker.
“Whoever this is you have my phone. I need it back. I’ll give you a thousand bucks for it. A thousand cash right now.”
“A call just came in for you Jazz. It is Jazz right?”
“You’re a journalist. Fuck. Are you a journalist?”
Total panic in his voice.
“Guess again,” I say.
The number that first called is coming in again. I hit the buttons to answer and conference it in with the current live call.
“Shut up Greg. Some guy has my phone.”
“I’m the guy,” I say. “Jazz I know. You’re Greg. Nice to meet you Greg.”
“Fuck fuck fuck. This guy is a reporter?”
“Hang up,” Jazz orders. “Hang up and call the production company line. Text everyone else to . . .”
“I am hanging up now!”
Greg’s call ends. I hear Jazz breathe and then he clicks off too.
Back in my office I’ll be able to retrieve call history and even a contacts list from the SIM. But I’m not investigating Jazz or his friend Greg. I think I’ve learned enough to have an idea of what’s going on here.
I follow Sally all the way to Venice Beach. The circus atmosphere on Ocean Front Walk adjusts my sense of normal as I saunter along. The test of any street performer for me is can they get me to forget the bikini clad beauties on roller skates for a moment? Not many do. Blowing fire, juggling chainsaws, a muscled idiot bending rods—they are all yawns today.
Sally sees me coming up to her. She gets her phone out and hurriedly texts.
“You don’t need to cancel your meet up on my account.”
“Nothing has changed since yesterday. Leave me alone.”
“It was going to be a show, wasn’t it?”
She looks at me. Too late to show mock scorn now.
I put it together for her. “Jazz was going to produce a reality show about the ad. About the seventy two of you putting the ad together. About what happened after.”
“There was talk. Just talk. There was no contract.”
“Did all the women know?”
“No. It was just me talking to Jazz.”
“Deb didn’t know?”
“No. Her intentions were . . . ”
“Were what Sally? Pure? Come on. She wanted the media attention and she got it.”
“Jazz approached me. He heard and he approached me. But it was just talk.”
“He emailed me. We met a few times.”
“Do you know the game show he has in development now?”
“Yes I do. So what? It’s a show. It’s entertainment. He works in entertainment.”
“Your show about the ad and the outrage wasn’t going to be entertainment? . . . You’re too smart to believe that.”
“I wanted to use the misogynist media tools of the patriarchy to . . .”
“I get it.”
“I wanted to show the world that . . .”
“I get it.”
“No. You don’t get it,” she promises me.
“Irony is a powerful weapon. But blades and bullets kill faster. This reality TV wrinkle is interesting but it doesn’t change the threat to your life.”
“Shut up and listen. Jazz and his silent producers started the outrage. They staged the burnings of the ads and the flags.”
“In the Middle East?”
“No. Here. Look back at the media timeline. The riots started on the UCLA campus. Jazz made that happen. It was part of his viral marketing plan.”
“The fire was going to global no matter where it started.”
“Because of CNN and Fox News and MSNBC. The original reality TV,” she says with a bitter sneer.
“This is a super essay Sally. Even a solid chapter of your dissertation. But your life is still—”
“Jazz should be fearing for his life!”
“I can assure you Jazz and his silent producers are shitting their pants.”
“They’re scared okay but there’s no death threats against them.”
I start us moving along the boardwalk. We walk away from the ocean toward Ghost Town. The street signs tell us where the civil authorities think we are. The graffiti tells us where we really are: crossing through territory fought and died for by Venice Shoreline Crips.
Sally cries and right away wipes her tears with a jerk of anger. “My dad paid you because you convinced him that you could get me to start fresh with a new identity.”
“I’ll do it. I’ll come with you. I’ll let you set me up somewhere new as someone else. If…”
She stops us.
“If you help me prove Jazz’s involvement.”
“Endanger another person just for the right to save you.”
“An odious asshole prick who deserves to die as much as I do. Help me feed him to the media and I will go with you.”
I think about it but only for a second. “Alright.”
We go back to my condo to plan. She tells me everything and we agree that the best course of action is to record Jazz admitting to the conspiracy. CNN, Fox News and MSNBC won’t need much – Jon Stewart’s Daily Show is the only news program with any real integrity anymore and he still has to make the news funny. It’s an obvious play yet done right it could work.
But then Jazz calls Sally.
His anxiety has zeroed in on the notebook Sally used to email him in the early stages of their arranging to meet. After that everything was communicated orally at clandestine locations throughout LA and there is no extant evidence of their ever having known each other. Her unfortunate choice to visit his office today may have been noted by individuals and was surely captured on the building’s video cameras but without correlating information it is little more than curious. He believes that if he can destroy the notebook then there will be nothing but her word that can incriminate him. This reveals a profound ignorance of how email works but that works to our advantage.
Jazz offers Sally a deal. She will bring the notebook to him for destruction and he will give her the names of the Islamic men he paid to act in the video clip of outrage on the UCLA campus. He paid them covertly so their names will help Sally unravel some of the conspiracy without implicating him directly.
This is clearly a trap.
But we choose to go with his trap instead of ours.
He picks the Wilshire Hotel in Koreatown for the meet. It’s closed while it is being remodeled but there have been money problems so it is abandoned at the moment.
Sally and I arrive two hours early with a bag of video equipment. I spend forty minutes scouting the area until I am sure our entrance will not be witnessed. I then pick the lock to a back door and leave it open by way of obvious explanation for her early appearance.
There is plastic sheeting, dust, there are some discarded tools.
We take the stairs up to the tenth floor. The room Jazz specified for the meeting is 1040. There is no door on the room. All the furniture has been removed but I can still see why they’ve put this place under the knife: popcorn ceilings, stained floors, horrible walls.
I wouldn’t stay here for free.
I install two video cameras. The first is cheap and hidden poorly. It’s a decoy. The second is the one we intend to actually rely upon for our footage. It is better positioned and well hidden. I show Sally everything as I set it up. I explain to her that I will be in the other room, watching and ready to come in. I share some FBI tricks on getting a conspirator to talk.
She understands that the reality producer is coming with a gun.
She knows that I am armed with my Glock.
When we hear Jazz coming up the stairs I move to the adjacent room.
I watch his entry on the small notebook screen the wireless signal is casting to.
I’m hearing him through a small earpiece placed in my ear not facing the open hallway.
Sally is hugging the notebook she’s brought.
“How did you get in before me?” he asks.
“The back door was open. Maybe drug addicts come here.”
“So are you.”
He’s moving around the room looking for recording equipment. He finds the poorly hidden camera right away. And then almost as quickly he finds the well hidden one.
My screen goes blank. I pull my earpiece out. Fuck that didn’t take long.
“You dumb bitch. My first show was hidden camera.”
Smart enough to look for and find the cameras, surely Jazz will search to see if Sally has brought a friend. And yet he’s not doing it. Finding the watching lenses has pumped his already supreme confidence. There’s a ragged and brash edge to this confidence that I know only too well.
He’s coked up. His mind is accelerating, his body is trying to keep pace.
If he doesn’t think to look for me in the next moment he won’t.
I draw my Glock and step with care into the hall. I start recording the audio with my phone. I don’t know if it will be enough for our purposes but we’re two minutes in and already on Plan C.
“My life is in danger,” Sally says.
“You’re right about that.” I can sense that Jazz has pulled a gun. “Put the notebook on the floor and kick it over to me.”
I hear Sally try to do this but I guess the notebook doesn’t move much on the carpet.
“Leave it,” Jazz yells. “Step away from it.”
I hear Sally move. I feel Jazz reach down to the get computer.
I thumb the safety on my Glock off. I don’t know if Jazz has ever fired a gun before. I doubt he’s ever shot someone in cold blood. He’s going to have to talk himself up to it.
“I’m only going to ask this once. Did you tell any of your stupid feminist friends about the show we were planning?”
“I don’t believe you. But it won’t matter when you turn up dead.”
“They’ll just assume a crazy Muslim did it.”
“Sounds about right, doesn’t it? Oh I promised you the names of the morons I paid for the outrage video. They were—wait for it—Mohammed, Mohammed, Mohammed, Mohammed and Mohammed.” The jerk laughs.
“Deb is dead! You have endangered the lives of all my friends.”
“Who are you kidding bitch? You stupid cunts endangered your own lives. I just got the news going. And you. You wanted to try and parlay this stupid academic trick into a career as a reality star.”
“You pitched it.”
“What can I tell you? I’ve got a number of shows in development. I’m going to be abandoning this particular project due to underestimating the craziness of crazy Muslim fuckers. Besides Would You Fuck Her? was picked up today. So yeah all of my production energies need to go into that.”
“You sent the footage of the mob right to the media.”
“It wasn’t even a mob, honey. It was like five guys, some paper, a printer, a flag and flame. I didn’t even have to provide a camera. They captured the whole thing on
their cellphones. I wasn’t even there. I just got them money and then made sure the video got sent to the right places.”
“You’re as big a fucking misogynist asshole as the oil sheiks that bid on that ad. You’re just as fucking evil as the religious zombies out to kill my friends.”
“Heh, sure whatever. You are an uptight feminist bitch.”
Sensing he’s almost ready to pull the trigger and believing we have enough audio, I turn, and take three quick steps to the left, arriving in the doorway with my Glock pointing at Jazz’s back.
“Place your gun on the floor,” I command. “And then the notebook.”
Jazz is still, his coked out nervous system twitching.
“Who are you?” he asks.
“A deadly shot at fifteen feet.”
The reality producer kneels down and puts his gun on the floor. And then the notebook. Now he turns to see me. Recognition flits through his eyes and he shakes his head. “What do you have? Shitty audio from the hall?”
“My phone camera was on,” Sally says and taps her front pocket. “That was good enough for the outrage clips it should be good enough for your confession.”
This makes me smile.
“I didn’t confess to anything,” our captive tries.
“A little post production and a lot of conjecture on the 24 hour news cycle will fix that,” I say. “Now move backward until your back hits the wall and stay there.”
I get Jazz’s gun. I instruct Sally on gathering all the video equipment. When everything is in the gym bag and we’re ready to go I tell Jazz to reach into his pocket and take out the new cellphone he’s using.
“Throw it to me.”
He does and I catch it with my off hand. I dial 911 and then drop the device on the floor. Jazz’s expression changes as he grasps what I’m going to do. I raise the sightof my weapon, breathe out and pull the trigger.
My bullet clips the meaty part of his thigh. He won’t bleed out but he’ll be staying where he is. Sally spits on him. We make our exit down the staircase, out of the hotel and to the waiting 911.
We drive back to my condo. We prepare the video to send to the three major news networks with plastic gloves on. After we’ve dropped the envelopes in the mail we go for dinner at a diner and I ask Sally, “What do you want your new name to be?”
Like Chalk? Read the first novel in The Dark Pantheon series: Dark Digital Sky
“Fresh. Fast. Innovative. A cyberpunk revival of 1950’s hardboiled crime.”
–Pulp Metal Magazine, Mav Skye