mazarowskis idea. rest stop plees. drumbeats .find the hinterlands
Osgood squinted. “Please or pleas?” she asked her laptop. The beat-up ThinkPad with duct tape holding the front half together had nothing to add to the email. She clicked reply and asked, Elaborate? Sent.
Moments later a notification returned, the status bar telling her unknown address. She pursed her lips and scrolled through the email’s header, a collection of data that seemed to indicate a lot of things, though she understood few of them. The piece that did jump out was the obvious one. Where usually she’d find another email address, she saw a lonely @ sign. Odd, for sure. The code below that meant nothing to her, and she forwarded it to Zack with the subject line, the fuck? He’d at least be able to track it back to its source, if not to a real person behind the spoof.
She tipped her glass to her lips and poured back the last of the bourbon. The legs of liquid slowly ran down the bottom of the glass as she stared into it, yearning.
That’s it, she thought. Nothing more in the apartment. How had she allowed her alcohol supply to dwindle to zilch? She set the glass down on the end table next to her bed, giving it one more forlorn look. If she wanted more now, there’d be no choice but to get dressed and go downstairs. Maybe she could pull off a robe. Her kimono looked fashionable.
She raised her thumb to her mouth, noticing, next to the hangnail she couldn’t quit, that her midnight blue nail polish had scuffed off almost completely. She shook her head, feeling a boozy sway but not the sweet relief of drunk. Barely even into tipsy now.
“Downstairs?” She answered her question with a shake of her head and stuck her right hand back in her mouth. She tapped out rest stop plees into the search bar with her left hand. The website helpfully made a suggestion that Osgood immediately rebuffed. “If I meant ‘rest stop please’ I would’ve typed that.” She clicked the small text below its absurd suggestion to view results for her spelling. This time the engine was even less helpful. rest stop plees produced links to articles about Illinois rest stop revitalization, locations, assistance, and not unexpectedly, hookup requests.
She felt her teeth finally grab at that bit of flesh that had annoyed her all evening with its exquisite pain. With purchase, she yanked. Her mother’s voice in her mind reminded her, Nice girls don’t bite their nails, Pru. They get cuticle scissors and cut it. She knew that Cynthia Osgood also wouldn’t approve of the way she spit the cuticle and its trail of skin into the trash can next to her bed, which overflowed with crumpled paper, dirty tissues, a McDonald’s fries container, a couple of condom wrappers, and the empty fifth of Kentucky bourbon. Osgood stared at her thumb, now sporting an angry elongated V of deep pink, but not bleeding, tender flesh.
She prodded it with the index finger of her other hand, mumbling, “Nice girls,” to herself. Back to the search engine, this time copying and pasting the entire contents of the email. mazarowskis idea. rest stop plees. drumbeats .find the hinterlands
The search engine, perhaps shocked by her audacity, didn’t even bother with did you mean? Instead, 0 results found.
Osgood lifted her phone off the bed beside her and stared at it for a moment, trying to remember the app she was supposed to be using. One of those that randomly dropped vowels. Life would be far easier if Zack would just let her use regular text messaging to talk to him. Instead, he’d installed this frustrating separate app that she knew she should’ve put on her home screen.
“It has end-to-end encryption,” he’d told her.
“Why do I need that?” she’d asked.
“Whom,” he’d said, and she’d stared at him for a silent minute before dropping the issue.
Finally, she found the app and tapped, Anything? into the field under his user account, a seemingly random string of letters and numbers. As Zack Nguyen was her only contact in the app, this abstraction hardly mattered.
Minutes passed. She glanced at the empty glass on the table.
A ping from Zack. Gimme time, woman!
Osgood threw her entire body into a sigh. Patience had never been in her wheelhouse. She debated chastising him for calling her “woman,” but had no mood for a fruitless discussion that would likely teeter and fall apart when he inevitably asked how she would like to self-identify. One needed to be confident of that oneself, first, right?
She tossed the phone back atop the notepad, beside her on her bed. The pad itself was lousy with doodles but held little in the way of actual content. She cracked her knuckles, hearing the voice of her mother in her mind scoffing again at that unladylike action, and returned to the search engine. mazarowskis idea went in.
The results dropped the “s” which she presumed was possessive, with a forgotten apostrophe. While not a terribly common surname, Mazarowski yielded a diverse array of results, including meeting minutes from a nonprofit, a law firm associate, a bridal design company, a linebacker at the University of North Dakota, a few news articles, and other minutiae.
“Nothing worthwhile.” Osgood sighed once again, a dramatic flourish that would’ve made an impact if she didn’t live alone.
She slid her cursor over the last portion of the email and dropped that into the waiting maw of the search engine. Below its 0 results initial find, she saw drumbeats .find the hinterlands with a result. Lyrics from “The End of What’s Real” by the band Rhapsody in the Shallows. The title pulled at the corner of her mind, like one of those moments you can’t remember if you lived or dreamed.
She scrolled through the lyrics and there, bolded, midway through the third verse, was Drumbeats in the Hinterlands. She scanned the remaining lyrics, finding nothing about rest stops. The album’s title, though – Ramparts Over the Hinterlands – suggested the reasoning for the word’s appearance in the song.
She clicked for more information on the band. Four members, one dead, none named Mazarowski. She closed the tab and refreshed her email. She slapped her laptop shut, noticing the bottom jiggle. Going to need more duct tape. A buzz of her phone drew her away.
She tapped the notification, hoping for news from Zack, but instead found Carla. I don’t want what was said today to be the last thing said between us.
then you shouldntve said it, thumbed back Osgood before tossing the phone onto the pillow next to her. Well, that’s the mature way to handle things, isn’t it, Pru? She scowled. At least she’d thrown it away without saying more.
It buzzed again. She stared at it awhile, then picked it up. “If we have to have it out now, I suppose we—”
Email is obscured, said Zack in the encrypted app. There was another notification from Carla as well, but she ignored it.
“I know,” said Osgood. Can you go deeper? She scowled after she sent the message, waiting for the 26-year-old’s glib reply.
Zack didn’t take the bait. I can, but it’d be pointless. The obscuring isn’t particularly novel.
Okay, asked Osgood. Do you know where it came from?
I do. Mother Russia.
Emailer isn’t from Russia, though, assured Zack. So don’t make me follow that train of thought all the way down the tracks. IP address is routed through Super Sekret VPN.
Osgood didn’t ask if that was actually the name of the service or if he was just enjoying the Russia connection a bit more than he ought.
The rabbit hole goes deeper, though. Probably a VPN stack.
Osgood shook her head, wondering if he told her stuff like that just so she’d ask him what it meant and he could feel smart. Meaning?
It’s turtles all the way down.
She sighed. Can you do a deep-web search on the content?
… Zack’s ellipses may as well have been an eye-roll.
The better search engines you’re always talking to me about but won’t tell me how to use.
I’ve asked you to come over many times to show you how these all work.
I know, she said, but I don’t have the patience for this stuff and you’re good at it!
Don’t worry, said Zack. I’m sure you’d need plenty explained to you even if you could use them.
I’m sure, said Osgood, wondering if her sarcasm translated via text. Until then, could you just look?
Already doing it. Need anything else?
I could bring over a movie.
She snorted. Different kind of distraction needed, Zack. And your gender alignment isn’t ideal for that.
Prudence Osgood smiled, but her heart wasn’t in it. She tapped out her own Goodnight and dropped the phone into her lap. Her current outfit, boxers and a bra, wouldn’t cut it to go down to Mary’s. She considered layering her trench coat over, bare legs poking out, and was reminded of the illusory scourge of flashers her mother used to warn her about until young Pru had thrown back, “I’m curious what it looks like.”
“Prudence!” her mother had shrieked, almost as though purposefully emphasizing exactly how inappropriate the name she’d bestowed was.
With a reluctant climb out of bed, feeling every ache in every muscle, Osgood added unseasonably-early snowflake pajama pants and a Hedwig and the Angry Inch t-shirt, grabbed her phone, keys, and wallet, pulled the maroon trench coat off the hook on back of the door, and left the apartment, only turning the doorknob’s lock.
Two fewer locks to worry about on her hopefully far less lucid return.