A couple days later, Darryl and I sat down for lunch in the food court, like we did from time to time, and we got talking about Brent, both of us agreeing he was an arsehole after sharing a few merciless jokes at his expense. Perhaps that was the moment our superficial work buddy relationship solidified into an actual friendship, because at one point Darryl leaned in closer to say he had other footage of the missing girl, however, it could not be shown to Brent as it came from “unofficial channels”. My curiosity was piqued, so I asked him what the unofficial channels were and he held his index finger up to his lips. Then he glanced over both shoulders before telling me to drop by his place on the weekend.
Thinking back now it occurs to me, Darryl Boswell was ahead of his time. Normally, that expression denotes something heroic but not in this case. What I mean to say is, he predated two movements, both of which reared their ugly heads ten years after we were fraternizing inside and outside of the mall. Had he lived longer, he would’ve found solidarity within the red pill movement and the incel movement. Never once did I see him in the company of a female yet he spun many tales of heterosexual conquest, always in vague enough terms to avoid scrutiny. I suppose his Coke-bottle glasses and string bean physique didn’t help his plight. Nor did his high-strung, Woody Allen-esque, man-child demeanor. Despite being fourteen years my senior, I couldn’t help treating him like he was much younger than me. Perhaps an undiagnosed hyperactivity disorder was at the root of his juvenility, or maybe he simply had no intention of growing old gracefully, as evidenced by the blonde dye in his greying hair.
I’ve always been quick to give the benefit of the doubt, thus I assumed his insistence on wearing Adidas tracksuits was less an age-defying statement than a practical consideration informed by his fleetfootedness. Everything he did had to be done at a high rate of speed. Walking beside him meant breaking a sweat and following him in conversation proved equally difficult, as his rapid-fire chatter would be crammed with dubious facts and figures that made heads with slower processing speeds spin around the heavily biased axis of his ‘truth’. On one occasion he alluded to having Asperger’s Syndrome, a diagnosis corroborated by the quirks of his behaviour. Rarely did he pick up on social cues, and there were countless instances of him misinterpreting figurative language. Indeed, Darryl was an odd duck whose character held sharply relieved sides, so much so I never quite knew who I was going to meet upon showing up for work. Some days he was overbearing to the point of boorishness. Other days he’d shrink like a violet from the world.
The anti-Semitic seeds of the red pill movement were germinating on the internet circa the mid 2000s and swift measures should’ve been taken in order to stamp them out. But how does one stamp out something that’s probably been around since Ramesses II chased the Israelites out of Egypt? Hindsight has always been 20/20 and from my vantage point here in the middle of the third decade of the third millennium AD (2025), it’s easy to be glib about anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and their wild-fire proliferation on the emerging social media platforms of the mid 2000s. Back then, there was no narrative around content regulation and millions of guys like Darryl were slowly being turned away from the light of reason as a result.
At first, he struck me as a harmless contrarian, however, I came to find him deeply invested in an ideology of hate. There were, of course, warning signs. For example, denying facts seemed to leave him feeling spiritually invigorated like a parishioner at the end of a Sunday sermon. In his opinion, the Earth wasn’t round, climate change didn’t have anything to do with humanity’s addiction to oil, dinosaurs never existed, the real Paul McCartney did not live past 1966, and the Beaux Arts style of architecture that characterized the opulence of America’s Gilded Age didn’t reflect the work of architects bankrolled by robber barons, rather, it was the legacy of a global Tartarian empire which disappeared after an apocalyptic mud flood swept over the entire (flat) planet… Denying the Holocaust was par for the course and terribly ironic of him because Boswell is an anglicization of a common Romani surname. I’m not sure if he knew about his ancestry, or of Hitler’s special abhorrence for Slavic Romanies and Jews. Maybe he did and in Hitleresque fashion chose to wildly overcompensate. Without stooping to apologetics, I should add to the record that a severely neglected child was visible upon scratching Darryl’s surface and this, I think, served as a challenge for me. Foolishly, I thought it possible to talk some sense into him by simply listening to his point of view and then engaging him in rational debate.
I suppose I was in denial about his derangement, the extent of which became a little more obvious when the weekend rolled around and I went over to his place to see the footage from his unofficial channels.
He rented a bachelor apartment in the hub of downtown. The area didn’t qualify as the mean streets but it certainly wasn’t a sought-after place to live. Run-down brownstones and aluminum sided duplexes would’ve been a hard sell for any realtor, yet sold signs were pounded into the patchy grass of trash-strewn lawns; proof the gentrification process had begun.
This was my first time visiting him at his home. We were only familiar with each other in the context of work. Outside of work, we did not engage, so I had no idea what to expect when his door swung open immediately after my first knock. Businesslike looks were exchanged as he whisked me down a hallway clogged with computer equipment, into an equally cluttered room, where I sat down on a chair frequented by his Persian cat. On the table beside my chair, a cold beer, a bottle opener, a cigarette, a lighter, and an ashtray had been thoughtfully laid out in advance of my arrival. Sometimes at work I’d join him for a smoke when our coffee breaks coincided, however, I was not a regular smoker. Nevertheless, I showed my appreciation for his hospitality by opening the beer and lighting up, at which point he began speaking at length about something called Backpage.com, specifically about how it was poised to become the next big thing in adult classifieds because Craigslist had recently been threatened with criminal prosecution for aiding and abetting sex traffickers by means of its erotic services section.
Subsequent to his Backpage preamble, he proudly proclaimed to have recognized the missing girl from a Backpage ad and that’s when he opened a new window on his laptop in order to show me what he was referring to. Sure enough, she looked to be the very same girl, and we both sat there in silence for a bit, drinking our beers and smoking our cigarettes while perusing photos that popped up when he clicked the hyperlink embedded at the bottom of her ad. The visual gallery began with several professional grade shots of her in a sheer nightie hiked-up above a substantial thigh gap, followed by a few of her sporting an underboob crop top while sucking on a lollipop, yet it all felt very wrong because she looked like jailbait despite the attempt to age herself with makeup, so I broke the silence, hoping to move the evening along from where it awkwardly stood.
- I don’t see why you can’t show these to Brent.
- What do you mean?
- Well, you said it was compromising but they’re publicly available and probably relevant to the investigation somehow.
- Oh, no, no, no. I wasn’t referring to this when I mentioned the unofficial channels.
We lapsed back into another pregnant silence wherein he scrolled through more naughty pictures as I sipped my beer and finished my cigarette, averting my eyes all the while. An elaboration regarding his unofficial channels appeared unforthcoming; therefore I continued the conversation, nudging things forward as best I could.
- So… What are the unofficial channels if you don’t mind me asking?
- You’d have to promise me and I mean really promise me that you’d keep it a secret if I showed you.
- Sure, okay… I really promise you.
He closed the laptop in front of him and took out another from a locking drawer in his desk. Then he rubbed the palms of his large hands together while it booted up. Moments later, he clicked one of several thumbnails that appeared on the home screen and a video automatically began to play.
- Are we looking at a stall in a public washroom?
- Good eye, Andy, good eye.
An elderly woman entered the stall, lowered her slacks and underwear, and sat down on the toilet.
- So this is a women’s washroom?
Upon finishing, the elderly woman wiped herself, pulled up her slacks and underwear, and then flushed the contents of the bowl. There looked to be several hours of footage but a timestamp enabled him to jump forward to where a young woman entered the stall.
- Wait… That’s the missing girl, is it not?
- Yes, it is, my friend. Now watch what she does right here…
I watched her sit down on the lid of the toilet with a piece of paper in one hand and her phone in the other. She appeared to be entering whatever was written on the paper into her phone. Then she crumpled the paper up and stuffed it into the small garbage receptacle affixed to the wall of the stall.
- I think that piece of paper will be instrumental to the investigation, if you can retrieve it.
- Wait a minute… Is this the women’s washroom at the mall?
- Remember your promise, Andy.
- Did you put a fucking spy camera in the stall of the women’s washroom?
- Remember your promise, Andy.
- Jesus Christ, Darryl. You’re damn right you can’t show this to Brent. You’ll be put in jail. What the hell were you thinking?
- I’ll tell you what I was thinking. I was thinking about the safety of girls like her. A lot of crime happens in mall washrooms because we’re not allowed to put cameras in there. Physical and sexual assaults, theft, drug abuse, you name it.
- So let me get this straight, you’re breaking the law in order to enforce the law.
- And I’m supposed to believe you’re not some kind of Peeping Tom.
- Some of them do pleasure themselves inside that stall but I have no interest in such things.
- This means you have video of children too, doesn’t it?
- Yes, it does, but I’m not making kiddie porn here, I’m maintaining the highest possible security level of any mall in the entire world. I defy you to find a mall with tighter security.
I drained the rest of my beer, shaking my head in disbelief. I knew he was weird but I had no idea how weird, until now. As for him, he showed no signs of contrition, in fact, he stared blankly at me like I was the one who was crazy, before he got up to grab me another beer and cigarette. The disapproving tone he used when referencing those who pleasured themselves in the stall got me thinking he might be an abstainer, so I decided to test my theory.
- Why do I get the feeling you’re one of those puritans who doesn’t masturbate?
- Actually, I don’t. I have no sexual urges. I’m much more evolved than that.
- Then why were you on Backpage dot com?
- Backpage isn’t just for sex freaks, it happens to have a wide array of classifieds that can’t be found anywhere else. I use it for buying and selling computer components, security hardware, and other electronic items. I just happened to look through the adult ads out of curiosity.
- Right, and I’m hung like John Holmes.
- No you’re not. I bet you’ve got eight inches at the most.
- It was sarcasm, Darryl, and in this case the sarcasm was supposed to convey the fact that I know a steaming load of bullshit when I hear it.
- It doesn’t matter if you don’t believe me, all that matters is that you keep your promise.
- Don’t worry, I’ll keep my promise, but you have to take your spy camera out of the washroom, or I’ll find it and take it out myself the next time I’m in there cleaning.
- It’s already gone. I didn’t wanna risk it being found by Detective Brent.
Darryl persisted in his lack of contrition as I made up an excuse to leave. While putting on my shoes, he informed me that the washroom stall footage of the missing girl showed her wearing the exact same clothes worn in the food court security camera footage, meaning it was from the same day (just a few days previous), and therefore I should check all the appropriate garbage bags for her crumpled piece of paper before garbage night rolled around. I claimed to have better things to do and left, feeling much dirtier than when I arrived.