It started with a dame, as it always does. I had just finished brewing my afternoon pot of joe when I heard the message arrive with a ping in my inbox. I swatted at the haze of cigarette smoke that filled my tiny office and wheeled my chair over to the computer. The computer in question sat on my desk next to my finest possession, an embossed bit of metal that stated succinctly, “Private Detective.” I woke up the screen. “Instructions on Obtaining 2017 Datamatch Results,” it read. I’ll bite, I thought, clicking on the link. It seemed too good to be true. My perfect match? If I’ve learned anything in my years on the job, it’s that love is never what it seems to be.
I tapped out my ashes and did some further digging on the ‘net. These Datamatch fellows seemed to have really cornered the market on campus love. I’m not one to take a job without any pay in sight, but this kind of thing just begged to be looked into. Only one way to start: Right in the mess of things.
I met with my “soulmate” on a Tuesday afternoon. The staccato pitter patter of rain punctuated our conversation.
“So you’re telling me that your name isn’t Ben Cort, you aren’t six foot one, you aren’t a Virgo, you didn’t want to be the red Power Puff girl when you were five, and you don’t have “MOM” tattooed on your left butt cheek?” I asked, slouched back in my chair and peering out from under the drooping corner of the brim of my hat.
“No?” my date replied, chewing nervously.
I chuckled softly to myself. Soulmate my backside. The two of us had as much in common as a chair did with a chickadee. I kicked back the table and swung to my feet. “Don’t worry, doll—the waffles are on me.” I had everything I needed.
“Aren’t they free?” my date started to ask, but I had already disappeared into the rain.
Datamatch was a sham, that much was clear. But why? How deep did it go? How far up did it go? Did it extend horizontally? I threw my trench coat to my secretary and slammed the door to my office. My secretary yelled something about being my roommate.
I pulled open my desk drawer and poured myself a glass of my old friend. PBR and I go way back. He helped me quiet the voices in my head and get to work. Voices that said things like, “Dude, you have several midterms this week. Maybe start studying?”
I pinned a photo of Zinneken's to my corkboard, next to the printout of the email I had received. Michael’s was having a buy-one-get-one-free sale on yarn, which was just what I needed to start connecting the threads of this case.
I gave my pal Steven Catalano a ring. He still owed me a favor, after all the help I gave him on that Gov 1310 take-home scandal. But when I mentioned Datamatch, Stevie got the sweats. He told me he didn’t know nothing. Then he hung up in a hurry.
As I was chewing that over, I heard a commotion from the other room. I slipped open my door and found a pair of goons giving my secretary the once over. Datamatch! I must have gone too deep. Deep enough that it would be easier to shut me up for good.
Before the goons could notice me, I slid my hand to my holster and introduced the big one on the right to my dear friend. His name’s Magnum, and he’s got one hell of a right hook. I must be getting old, though, because before Magnum could acquaint himself with the second bruiser I found myself flat on my back seeing stars. I guess it’s true what they say: Love hurts.
I woke up in the boot of a car. From the way I was getting tossed about, it seemed like we were doing 90 on a country road. I set to work getting the ropes off my hands and feet. If the cops were being bought off, I supposed it was up to me to sort this out.
The car stopped a few minutes later. I waited, coiled up like a rattlesnake, for them to pop the trunk. The blinding glow of headlights flooded my little prison. Whap-bam! I dropped the first two goons with the ol’ one-two. Still got it!
“Whoa there. Easy big fella,” a voice boomed out. It was the kind of voice that made you stop and listen.
I shielded my eyes against the glare and looked up. My jaw dropped. “Dean Lassonde?” I stammered. My head reeled, connecting the dots. The conspiracy had been right in front of me the whole time.
His eyes gleamed like ice. “I’m just Mr. Lassonde now. Datamatch has become so large it demands my full attention.”
“But why?” I asked.
He smiled, his teeth white as snow. “The Dean of Student Life is in charge of all facets of student life, not just snow days and placemats. Datamatch is calibrated to mismatch our students just enough that they can get a tantalizing taste of love without wasting too much of their precious time on ‘dates’ and ‘relationships.’”
“You’ve set us up to fail,” I breathed out.
“Exactly. We’ve found that our students are more productive when they’re complaining about how no one at Harvard wants to date, than when they’re substituting studying nights with romance. It goes without saying that this is your first warning. Discuss any of this with your peers, and you’ll find yourself forcibly transferred from the college.”
I gulped. The implied “to Yale” hung in the air. Lassonde was not the kind of man you argued with. I was escorted back into the trunk and decided that going peacefully was the best route to keeping my diploma in working order.
Back at home, I tidied up my office and took down the corkboard. My secretary was a bit shaken up, but but that was nothing a quick visit from my friend PBR couldn’t fix. I opened up my computer and deleted every email from Datamatch, just in case. At least I had gotten some answers. Still, this had been one of the worst kinds of cases: I never got paid.