Fiction: Bird Dog

By Kevin Camp

What is your name? The computer beeps softly, indicating I have received an incoming text message from the internet-based program.
Melinda I say, by way of introduction. That’s not my real name. I’m not going to tell her my real one. But it is the name I used at that exact moment when I figured I needed a good pseudonym. Best not to incriminate oneself for any reason. Melinda was the first name of my eccentric high school Spanish teacher. It seemed appropriate for the occasion. 
I came across the website to exact revenge on a girl, Margaret, who had been my personal nemesis in college. In the Fifties, I’ve read that in the days of bobbysoxers and fuzzy sweaters, they were called bird dogs. Nowadays we’d probably say that they’re brazen enough to love stealing boyfriends for sport.
She’s snatched them, my beaus, one by one, away from me, and as God as my witness, I am going to make the bitch pay.
I entered her dorm room, having procured from a highly proficient geek male buddy of mine, the means to hack her laptop password. 
This could have taken forever, but due to good luck and a quirk of fate, I found something that was perfect for my needs. I hadn't been sure what I was going to find once inside, I didn’t have forever, but scanning through the hard drive, much to my satisfaction, I found very quickly something extremely incriminating.
The first thing I noticed, without needing much investigation or confirmation was a particular underground website. In it, a person could exchange flirty texts, post amateur pornographic images, and videos, and spread content across the site. As I read more, I recognized that she identified as bisexual and was openly courting attention from women and men. Her reasons for perusing the site would never be known to me, but I hardly cared. 

She’d kept her account active and had a few thousand followers. A few of her videos had 10,000 hits. I suspected she felt relatively safe that the site was insulated from Google searches and would have taken a while to uncover. Acts that would have required much research to uncover. That was how she liked it. The rules were simple. Engage real people, unearth real pictures, foment real conversation, and produce real graphic flirtation. I wasn’t sure what gender she liked better, but was hoping for women.
Most of the men on the site, as to be expected, rendered themselves, by their public profiles, heavily foolish, at times disgusting, and most often motivated purely by their libidos. This left an awful lot of heavily frustrated men. I wasn’t unsympathetic. The same is often true with dating sites. Accordingly, I noticed that she ignored most of the male sex and found her luck was much better with women. Jotting down her profile name, I created an account of my own as bait.
The same boy who had helped me hack into her system was quite skilled at obtaining amateur nude images and videos, usually off of hacked iClouds. He came across one woman who had at least 500 images and one medium quality video up and available. They had been professionally shot and would serve as quality subterfuge. The trap was set. I sent Margaret a flirty text as the woman I would now pretend to be all the time. “I” was pretty, but not gorgeous, not possessed with overtly huge breasts or skimpy clothes. That approach would have sent up red flags, like phishing schemes and other nefarious behavior and I didn’t want her to be suspicious. 
I was in luck. She must have really liked me. I knew better than to use incriminating information, so I made sure to obscure my age (we were only separated in age by a few months) lie outright about my real physical location and where I was enrolled, prevaricate about my real occupation (student) and inflate many other details. I’m pretty good at lying, but I stick to the truth most of the time because the moment you lie, you have to remember to cover them from then on. And though she seems a little naive online, I’d never know if I was being played, too. To my great relief, the false me strikes an instant chord with her. I tease her with a few nude images here and there and keep up the flirty dialogue.
I need to make a crucial distinction. Every man I talk to gets some version of this same basic wisdom from me. In short, men don’t realize that women simply aren’t as visually stimulated sexually as they are. This is why they send innumerable pictures of naked penises, often on their profile pictures, failing to understand why they don’t produce positive responses, or really any responses at all. So, here’s a word to the wise. Women read their porn. We rely on fantasy primarily. I know, as I said, the visuals don’t really do much, but they have managed to set the tone for preliminary sexting between us. 
I haven’t thought of everything yet. But I’m creative and trust my judgement. That’s all on me. Or maybe I’m wrong about my gender, after all. Maybe I’ve oversimplified things. She begins to beg me for selfies, but I claim my phone is broken and I can’t afford to buy another one. We speak for hours the first night, culminating with a hot and heavy session of salacious text-message exchanges. It’s easy to play pretend. But within a week, she wants me to fly with her from the West Coast to NYC, which I suppose in her mind is a romantic gesture. It’s an impulsive move with COVID still-raging, a move which triggers even more red flags. 
Still, she was a gorgeous woman, so I initiated heavy sex talk once again, which she responds to with zest. Apparently now fully convinced that I am Melinda, she posts incriminating photos of herself on her own own page, which I take pain to save to my hard drive, in case they might prove useful later. And even I get really into it for a while, using dirty talk to coax her orgasm and even my own. Amazingly, it works. I started out hating this woman and now I find myself liking her strongly. But love? Never love. I’m using her and I know it.
I’m making plans to leak the photos of Margaret strategically throughout the campus. This can’t go on forever. This is going to be my escape hatch once I lose interest in this elaborate game. Naturally, she’ll track it back to me and angrily demand why I did it. I briefly consider lying yet again and claiming someone got access to the shots without my permission, but I would rather not. If this were a baseball game, I’d institute a mercy rule. To the uninitiated, a mercy rule is when a game is called early when the score is so lopsided in favor of one club that it’s considered impossible for the other team to come back.  
Fantasy is a powerful force. None of this has been real, except for a few of my words and most of hers. I’m bogus. As I’ve said, my stories, location, age, occupation, residence—all lies. One morning I wake up before class to see that she’s posted a photo of her in black underwear, posing seductively. If only she recognized who I was. I’m usually quite content taking the submissive role. The whole time we’ve been sexting, she’s begged me to take control and dominate her. And I’ve taken to it in a surprising way. In her mind, I am. In my mind, it’s been highly satisfying. Turnabout is fair play. Welcome to the 21stCentury.
We continue talking every day. At some point, I’ve made up an elaborate lie that I work crazy hours with the government. As you know, we’re both enrolled in different schools in Washington, DC. She’s starting to make ultimatums. When can we see each other? Once she gets through with school, she threatens to take a job in NYC, losing patience with me. This is a cat and mouse game by now. I don’t have to make up more excuses so long as I stay in DC because there are many jobs where people literally can’t tell anyone what they do for work. Not a soul. She buys the excuse. After a while, the instant I log into the website, I can tell that she’s been waiting patiently for me. Does she never watch TV or browse the internet?
She wants all my time, but I need me time at least periodically. I like to watch a movie or read a book every now and again, but all she wants from me is racy dialogue and all of my attention. Her personality appealed to be meek and gentle, but there’s something a little off about her that I can’t quite trace. What follows is foreshadowing, but I won’t tip my hand. Not quite yet anyway.
I begin to worry. How am I going to excoriate myself from this situation? Every day that goes by she keeps dropping subtle hints that she wants us to meet soon. Noticing my discomfort, she promptly and acquiescently backs up. She’s persistent but not pushy. We’re both aware of the oldest cliché in the book. Maybe it’s true, maybe it isn’t, but lesbians move in together very quickly and warm up quickly to each other. Another old joke goes like this: What does a lesbian bring on her second date? Answer: A moving van.
I have something of a conscience, so with time this elaborate game is beginning to gnaw away at me. I’ve lied (once again) that I had a verbally abusive relationship and am slow to trust any woman, a line she again buys, but I am beginning to get this bad feeling that she’s going to track me down and corral me on the street corner someday. It’s highly unlikely, but her obsession with me could lead to some very unfortunate outcomes. Even though every photo of “me” looks not a thing like me, I am fearful. 
Like I said, I try to avoid lying, but find conversations with her exhausting after a time. She asks so much. I consider finding a way to take some of the computer images and make them look like selfies but know that if I do that I am walking into a trap. If I do that, she’ll know my number, and she may try to track me down that way. My mind flashes to television shows about pursuing terrorists and I wonder if she knows enough about cell phone technology to hunt me down. 
The provocative pictures and videos continue. Like I said, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe some women really are visual. Maybe it’s just her desire for me. As for me, I usually read my porn. My porn involves elaborate fantasies predicated on best-case scenario. I imagine a powerful man carrying me in his arms and throwing me onto the bed. In some respects, I enjoy this exercise because sex was such an enigma to me most of my life. 
I bought my first vibrator with a gay male friend at the adult bookstore downtown a year ago. I was too ashamed to take it to the counter to pay for it. He grabbed it from me, exasperated, and headed straight for the rough green wooden countertop that seemed for all the world to almost be eye level. After that, I was hooked. I masturbated like a man. I planned out times in between studying to pleasure myself and considered the break an incentive.
As before, she waits for me until the moment I log on. I really have homework to do and know she must too, but I’ve done too much of a good job. Now I’ve made myself desire her the way she desires me. My mind percolates as I figure how to formulate my escape plan. What if she puts two and two together and tracks down Melinda. I can only hope that she lives in the opposite corner of the District which is not that large to begin with. And then a part of me hopes she does find Melinda, wrapping her arms around a complete stranger on the street who recoils in unfamiliarity. Maybe her heart will be broken, and I will have won. 
We’ve been talking for forever now, and she of course puts on the pressure every day. I push her away in my mind, over and over again. I invent false complexes and illnesses for myself to delay the inevitable. Sometimes I don’t sleep at night, fearful she’s going to find the real Melinda, the news will get back to me, she’ll somehow put me on the mother of all guilt trips, if not stab me. Though she doesn’t know it, and I’ll never let on, we have mutual friends. One of them is curious to know why she’s abruptly stopped dating boys. A girl with a bit more insider information brings up the notion of lesbian until graduation
It’s certainly plausible. Margaret was always tight-lipped about her relationships. One of her friends notes that she’s printed out a photograph of a red-headed, freckled, tall girl none of us have ever seen and pinned it to her backpack. The girl in the photo has the build of a volleyball player. Margaret never mentions her name but tell us that her friend hates her body. She says the friend thinks she is an Amazon because she’s 6’2, and beats herself up for it, but Margaret lets it slip that frankly she doesn’t care what she looks like.   
I’ve been playing for sympathy, just to twist the knife in. Then when I do finally decide to terminate whatever sick game we’ve been playing, the hurt will be even worse. 
But would you believe it, then it abruptly ends, in a way I would have never expected. I get too creative one evening. My so-called government job has supposedly taken me in the company of two clueless fugitives way out in the woods who have somehow, running from justice, toppled massive trees, which crash onto their legs. The criminals lose both their legs in the process, which have to be amputated. When I tell Margaret about this, within four seconds she immediately blocks me from talking to her ever again.
Huh. Not what I was expecting. But simultaneously I feel a deep sense of relief at not having to resort to drastic notions to handle the situation. She’s clearly mentally sicker than she lets on. It doesn’t make sense to resort to responding in a way this drastic. I suppose I should feel sorry for her, but I’ve enjoyed stringing her along for this long. But then again, her reaction is so curious that I’m not entirely sure of her precise reaction to what has just happened. 
I wonder if she feels heartbroken and simply can’t understand how a moment’s worth of honesty should produce instant departure. And yes, it’s disappointing to me that the game is now over for good. I know I’ve been using her for a long time. But I’ve also been using myself, paradoxically. I rationalize it. I justify. It’s been a creative exercise. One of my best. 
No voices over cell phones. No face-to-face reaction shots. No physical contact between two people. It’s all up in the cerebellum now. No confirmation. No denial. Somehow she’s won this crazy mind game, not me. Or is it only a tie? The winner and loser of an athletic contest often shake hands to bring closure to what hopefully has been a hard-fought game. No instant replay of the winning play is present. But if one side takes its ball and goes abruptly home, what sort of resolution is produced then? Bruised feelings certainly. But if this imaginary tree falls in the forest and doesn’t make a sound, what is produced?  
I return to research the situation. Apparently, once a person has been blocked by someone else, the only way communication can be renewed is if the blocker makes the decision. The decision has been made for me, but maybe I’ve dodged a bullet here. I would be more scared if a man was on the other end of this exchange. And yet, do I feel guilty about this elaborate game? Honestly, no. 
As the old saying goes, revenge is a dish best served cold. Margaret has many enemies, including the guy who got me access into her computer. Had I been the only girl she’d bird dogged; she might have won a degree of sympathy. I will never tell anyone what I’ve done. It’s too risky a move and I would prefer to keep this perfidy to myself. But I imagine her crying her eyes out on her pillow and it only makes me smile. 
I’m quite pleased with myself. I take a break from studying to speak to a super nice guy online who is not precisely my type but deserves a caring girl who will treat him with compassion. He’s smart and perceptive, though like many men he keeps trying to get me to take him to bed. Since I’ve perused this site, my perception of men has changed. They’re not in it for what they can get. Or, rather, most of them aren’t. They’re trying hard to be sympathetic and compassionate. Years of reforms have made a positive impact. I give them the God’s honest truth and though perhaps that shouldn’t be my role in life, I take it upon myself anyway.
If only they could take their libidos down a step or two, I would be a little less annoyed. Don’t get me wrong. They mean well. I’ve known other women who would and do give them a free pass, excusing themselves as hormonal beasts unable to control their base instincts. I think they could try a little harder, but I’ll always give A’s for effort. But it cuts both ways. There are friends of mine who eat up male attention like vanilla ice cream, as though they can’t get enough. One of them is Bethany, a profoundly plain blonde girl with a silly sense of humor who can never turn down a pass from a man, even when he isn’t exactly available.
My girlfriend Jennifer has a similar predilection. Her husband is a chronic flirt. She doesn’t seem to pick up on how heavily he comes on to her friends. If it were me, I’d pull him aside and give him a talking to, which is the only way he would ever stop. He craves female attention as much as some of my women friends do with men. Women have to handle men very different from women. This, I recognize, sounds like an obvious statement. The husband is quite handsome, and no one can understand why he exchanged vows with a woman most men would pass by in the street and give no further look.
He’s a complicated one. Maybe he does it because he can. It’s ironic that his girlfriend is majoring in psychology, as it is amazing that she has passed any of her coursework. She’s one of the most naïve human beings I have ever met. She’ll have perfect grades in college, immediately followed by honors society, a master’s degree but a complete and utter dismal failure when it comes to applying coursework to real life.
A freelance journalist in training, he speaks regularly to one of her best friends, using her for his ends as an expert in Anthropology when it comes time to complete his written assignments. She swoons, flattered at how much it makes her sound like an expert. Some years later, she will contract a rare disease requiring surgery, where, in a moment of insecurity, she will confess that one of her eyes is slightly more crooked than the other. 
It’s an awkward way of asking how he could possibly be interested in her. She justifies his attention because she has lived with the same man for eight years, a man her academic parents do not approve of because he works as an auto mechanic. Perhaps she is trying to get back at them somehow, passive-aggressively producing the man they think is best for her. However, for whatever reason, deeply stubborn, she stays with her long-term boyfriend, parents be damned.
Her other best friend, a few years older, has already graduated and works for Medicare and has never had a boyfriend before. She is so ignorant of the process of flirtation that it flies completely over her head. In addition, she harbors a bit of a Western Massachusetts prudishness, which he notices, as he lies shirtless in the bedroom, on a particularly hot day, the only route to the apartment’s sole bathroom. To save money, the couple let friends crash on the couch rather than pay for a hotel room. She passes through the bedroom and lets out an uncomfortable snort at she notices his hairy, naked chest. He can’t understand it. It’s no different than being at the beach. 
All of these women I’ve mentioned give men a free pass, to some degree, though they may not recognize they are even doing it. But then again, they certainly haven’t been solicited for sex in grotesque ways in the ways she has, particularly being sent over 1,0000 unsolicited penis pictures. The husband has more class and a desire to not be arrested for indecent exposure to uninterested women. But he does take more risks than he ever should, in ways that other sympathetic women eagerly excuse.
If only men and women would really talk to each other. Is there really so much difference between the sexes that we are forever locked inside questions that can never be answered? I recognize that a website designed specifically for sexual interludes might not exactly attract the most stable individuals, but there is a kernel of truth inside every irrational act—every man pleading for sex—every women utterly unable to heal the daily tragedies that someone has to stitch, sew, scour, and heal on a daily basis.

Kevin Camp was first published in a 2010 book entitled Quaker Rising, which included the written works of young adult Quakers across the United States and Canada. He has also been published in Friends Journal, New Millennium Writings, Misery Tourism, and The Summerset Review