I had been so wrapped up in my investigation I hadn’t realized night had fallen. It was near midnight and the only light in the room came from the screen of my laptop and my dad’s little TV screen which was airing the late SportsCenter.
I looked over to my dad in his bed. His eyes were closed and the blanket covering his chest was moving up and down. He muttered something in his sleep I couldn’t make out.
I got up off the couch and came to his side. Maybe he was offering up some telepathic clue about the case? I listened closely.
“Saban. Saban. Alabama. Fuck you Saban.”
My dad was having a nightmare about Alabama football. That may have been even scarier than Chase’s situation. I gave him a soft pat on the top of his nearly-bald head.
I took my cell phone out of my pocket and called the one person who I thought might be able to help me at this point.
“Thanks for meeting me here,” Ronnie said with a smile which was way too wide for someone who was meeting about another person likely being murdered to have.
We were back at The Locker Room. It was the only place Ronnie would meet me. He was already there and already drunk.
“No problem. I pulled all the chat logs from those computers. How come you didn’t tell me about Larry?” I asked Ronnie while he sucked down a drink.
“I told you about the weird, older guys. I just don’t remember their names. It was almost twenty years ago.”
“But you chatted with Chase the day before he ended up dead about meeting up with Larry. How do you not remember that? How did you not mention that to anybody back then?”
Ronnie finished his drink, stared into the frothy ice.
“Why?” I pushed again.
“You think I wanted to open up that box? There’s no way then, or now, I do that and it doesn’t end up with everyone knowing what happened to me. Thinking I’m gay.”
“But Ronnie, I have the transcripts. There’s enough there. There’s Chase’s screenname talking about meeting up with that Larry guy that day.”
“You just have the Chase Manhattan screenname?”
“Yeah, I guess, why?”
“Because that’s not the only screenname Chase used.”
“What? I pulled every transcript from every one of those computers.”
“I’m sure you did, but Chase had another screenname, like a clean one. He only used the Chase Manhattan one for conversations he didn’t want the church to see. The church picked out your real screenname with you and that was the only one you were supposed to use.”
“What was his real screenname?”
“Something like young saint or disciple or something super creepy in retrospect.”
Chase’s main screenname was in all of the logs I had pulled. It was YoungFollower19.
Almost all of his conversations were typical 12-year-old stuff which often tied back into the church, except for whenever he chatted with someone named Honcho14.
Most of the conversations I found between YoungFollower19 and Honcho14 were just as stale and uninteresting as the rest of his conversations about South Park and Warheads candy and various other juvenile topics, but one jump drive dove into a cluster of conversations which plunged into the bizarre.
July 16, 1998 – Private Chat
Honcho14: Haven’t heard much from you lately…
YoungFollower19: Yeah, been a pretty boring summer.
Honcho14: Is that what LareBear would say?
Honcho14: You guys have been talking a lot.
YoungFollower19: You’re crazy.
Honcho14: But you have. Been getting serious?
YoungFollower19: I’m done talking to you.
August 22, 1998 – Private Chat
Honcho14: You’ve been ignoring me.
YoungFollower19: I’m not ignoring you. I just haven’t been on in a while. Getting ready to go back to school too.
Honcho14: So you’re meeting LareBear?
YoungFollower19: No. I don’t know why you are obsessed with that. I’ve only talked to him like three times.
Honcho14: I don’t believe you.
YoungFollower19: I don’t care anymore.