It had been another slow day at the office — slow, that is, until he heard a rapping on the frosted glass of the front door. “Hello?” a silky voice called. “Is this the Internet Detective Agency?”
Of course it was: Net had painted the gold letters there himself. He looked around the dusty office — the grandfather clock in need of winding, the stacks of case files and the typewriter resting before him, the fan rattling on the side table — and blew a smoke ring. The IDA wasn’t much, but it was his.
She called herself Candace and said she wanted to talk a little about paint and a lot about justice. The tricky ones always do, he thought. On Sunday in Louisiana, there was a robbery, she said. Denver was running the show, see, through the first half. Then Drew Brees battled back — and suddenly, with no more time on the clock than it’d take a hungry dog to steal a man’s pie, all New Orleans needed was the extra point to bump off the Broncos for good. But then, well …
Candace’s large green eyes shone. “You can see for yourself.”
Denver blocked the attempt, Will Parks grabbed the pigskin and ran clear to the other end of the field — and then that was it, donezo: Broncos 25, Saints 23.
But here’s the thing. That run — there was something awfully fishy about it. Somewhere along the way, Parks came right up against the paint. What Candace wanted to know — what she assured Net she would pay him every penny of his fee to find out — was if Parks’s foot went out of bounds. Because if it did, there was more on the line than just the wild-card race. The stakes here were ones of pride. Of honor.
There was some truth out there, and it was Net’s job to find it. From somewhere underneath his desk, jazz music began to play.
Net had founded the IDA years earlier, not long after retiring from the force. When he closed his eyes, he could still hear the sound of whistles. Even all this time later, he kept his referee’s jersey folded neatly in the top drawer of his desk.
He’d seen cases like the Will Parks Matter before. Three years ago, there was the Penalty That Wasn’t. Just this month, Net was called in to settle the Chris Ivory Affair. He kept talismans from some of his former clients, like a hand-addressed tweet from Richard Sherman that he had mounted on the back wall. No great challenge for an old gumshoe like him.
Net spread the evidence across his desk and squinted. It wasn’t going to be easy, kid: That’s the first thing he told Candace. But he had a way of finding people and making them sing — she knew that. “You come highly recommended,” she said, blowing smoke in his face. He — well, he’d learned not to show emotion a long time ago.
Now he peered into the footage, watching Parks hurtle away from him again and again.
“White shoes,” Net muttered, absentmindedly scratching the head of Marlowe, the tabby who wouldn’t quit coming around. This was more complicated than he thought. The minutes squeaked by like an old taxicab in traffic.
There was no getting around it: He would have to visit the archives. Net stood up from his desk, grabbed his fedora, and slid into his trench coat, a blaze of black-and-white lining flashing momentarily. He grimaced; years after throwing his last flag, his shoulder pain remained. He strode across the office, hung his hat on the rack, and sat down at the IDA’s other desk, wedged against a wall in the back left corner of the room. The jazz music grew louder.
Baaaaaah, the computer said to him as it booted up. I didn’t like its looks, he thought as he gazed into its screen. And when I found out it was called Sierra, I didn’t trust it, either. Net clicked twice and winced as the red eyes came into view.
He was certain he’d find something here to crack the case wide open. He needed to — he’d given Candace his word. He’d been elbows deep in the archives when he solved the case that made his career, after all: a frame-by-frame dissection of Dez Bryant’s play in a 2015 divisional playoff game that irrefutably proved the Cowboy made the catch.
Net shivered: That one had cost him a lot of friends on the force; they’d ruled it incomplete on review and ended Dallas’s season. Sometimes, when he was out, people in cowboy hats still bought him drinks. This was why the Internet Detective Agency was founded: You couldn’t always trust the folks in black and white to get it right. He was lost in reverie for a moment when suddenly he caught sight of something that made him start. “My God,” he said. “Another angle.”
Net knew he was in deep. Real deep. So deep he could see the bottoms of the pylons. He pressed play and fast-forwarded to the shot in question.
Enhance, he said.
Enhance, he said again.
A cold sweat broke down his spine. Enhance, he said one more time.
Marlowe hissed, leapt off the desk, and ran out of the room. Enhance! called Net.
Net realized he was in further than he ever could have imagined. Suddenly, the phone on the old mahogany desk rang. “Hello?” he answered. He heard only silence.
But this, he realized, was the price of doing business. There would always be people angered by his work. There would always be things that the black and white let slip through the cracks. And there would always be more like Net to solve them.