It took longer than he thought, but Brad finally was approved by the Phoenix police department to purchase a glock 9mm pistol. Excited at being a gun owner, the first thing he did when he brought the weapon home was take selfies holding it in front of his bedroom mirror. It took a few tries to get his pose just right where he appeared imposing but not a potential murderer.
He uploaded the best photo to his Facebook page and added the following caption: “I’d like to see some dirty Mexicans try and take my country.” A large American flag was strategically placed in the background. The photo got several likes from his mostly patriotic friends along with one comment that stated the following: “I think I need to buy a new piece of freedom myself.”
Brad worked in the mail room of a real estate company, in charge of the interoffice mail system. His main duty was hand delivering brown manila envelopes to one of the forty or so offices and cubicles located within two floors of an eight-story office building. It was a simple job that took little brain power for him to do.
The company he worked for was big enough to have doughnut days every Friday but small enough where he was on a first name basis with everyone. The job didn’t exactly pay well, but it was enough for him to afford a small room in the city while maintaining an old truck that his dad gave him for his eighteenth birthday five years prior. The only annoying part was having to wear a collared shirt to cover a small neck tattoo he got done to celebrate graduating from high school.
Besides talking about the occasional sports match with his male co-workers, who he didn’t have much in common with, Brad spent his free time at work trying to chat with girls on POF and Tinder. His gun photo had led to a slight increase in replies and matches, but he wasn’t sure if it was from that or because spring arrived and girls were pining for more action. Either way, he struggled to grab the attention of attractive women and get them on dates in the face of tough competition from all the other men in the city doing the exact same thing as him.
Three weeks after posing for the selfie with his new gun, Brad pulled up into work. He swiped his card at the lobby of the office building but it didn’t make a clink sound like usual, a sign that the turnstile mechanism unlocked. He tried again only to receive the same result. He approached the desk and gave the security guard on duty his card, asking to check if there was some type of mistake. The guard made a call and told him to wait. After six minutes, his boss, a young HR representative, and another guard came into the lobby and escorted him into a meeting room.
“What’s going on?” Brad asked.
“Yesterday afternoon,” his boss said, “we began receiving many emails and phone calls complaining about your behavior outside of the office.”
“On Facebook you uploaded a photo of yourself with a gun. While the photo is not inherently offensive, your caption insinuated that you would resort to violence under a certain type of situation.”
“Murderous violence,” the HR girl added while scrolling through her phone.
“You are getting a lot of calls because of that photo? I don’t understand… I only have a few dozen friends on Facebook.”
His boss, whose wife just had his second child, squeezed his lips and thought carefully about how much information to give to Brad. “It appears that your profile was public. It was shared with a reporter for a blog called…”
“The Denouncer,” interjected the HR girl, suggesting her familiarity with the site.
“Yes, The Denouncer. They posted this image yesterday morning alongside the company name and number. So that’s why we are receiving complaints.”
“Well so what? I legally own that gun and I’ve never committed a crime or been arrested in my life. Who cares what people who don’t even live here or use the company say? Let them call.”
“Unfortunately it matters because our reputation will continue to be tarnished online for as long as we employ you. We can’t have that hurting business.”
“And also,” the HR girl said, “other female associates are concerned for their safety. You are creating a tense and potentially unsafe work environment.”
“So what does this all mean?” Brad asked, even though he already knew the answer.
“I have to let you go,” his boss replied. We’re giving you a generous one month severance, but we can’t keep you employed here. We wish you the best of luck.”
Katie Easterly wasn’t too happy with where her career was going. After graduating from Columbia University with a degree in journalism, she half expected to get an internship at a prestigious newspaper like the New York Times to start changing the world with investigative pieces that would challenge the elite power structure and expose all the injustices that were still happening daily to groups that lacked white male privilege. Instead, she worked for nearly minimum wage at low-budget blogging outfits that all had the identical business model: get page views at any cost. Even mild defamation was encouraged since an “update” could be issued mere hours after an article goes viral but well before the offending party could hire a lawyer.
After working for NYC Fabulous for one year, Katie applied for a position at a new blog called The Denouncer that aimed to take advantage of the growing social justice trend that helped empower women and minorities to confront all the problems in society that were impinging on their pursuit of happiness. This is exactly what Katie wanted—a job that could make a difference in the world instead of simply blogging about boring NYC socialites and hip new cupcake bakeshops. In her job interview with The Denouncer’s founder, a gay man named Ted who was from South Africa and had a fiery Filipino ladyboy lover, Katie asked what was the overall mission of the new venture.
“To make society better,” Ted replied. “We want to shame, humiliate, and embarrass all the racist, sexist, misogynist, homophobic, transphobic, fatphobic, and cisgender jerks to forever stop all that is offensive. America has no place for such backwards beliefs and thinking.”
“So I would be blogging about these bad characters?”
“Yes, not only them but their employers. We will engage our readers not just with comments, but also activist action in hurting the individuals who try to hurt us.”
“This sounds like a social justice blog.”
“This is social justice on steroids.” Ted spoke with a lisp so the phrase ‘social justice’ was a tongue twister for him. “We won’t be afraid to dox people and go after their bread. My dream is that in a year or two, people will be so scared of us that it will change not only what they say publicly, but also how they think.”
Katie was impressed with Ted’s vision and signed on. She quickly became the star blogger at The Denouncer with a specialty for uncovering racists. By the time she encountered Brad’s gun photo after seven months on the job, she had successfully gotten six racist men fired from their jobs after inciting readers of The Denouncer to take action against them when an offensive photo or status update of theirs was revealed. Not only was she making a difference, but she was getting paid in the form of page view bonuses and an industry innovation called the firing bonus. Whenever Katie got someone fired, she received $500 (this only applied to the firing of men).
Her article on Brad practically wrote itself. After being sent his Facebook photo from an anonymous reader, she darkened it a bit in photoshop to make him appear more sinister. She called him a “racist asshat” and then showed photos of sad Mexican children with dirt on their faces attempting to cross into America for a better life. She also added that Brad is “not what America stands for” and “will probably commit murder if he’s not stopped.” To end her article, she pleaded with her readers to put a stop to men like Brad by contacting his employer and letting them know what they think of his racism and pre-violence.
The calls, tweets, and emails commenced almost immediately. Brad had no chance. Not only did Katie receive a $500 firing bonus, but also a $250 page view bonus since her article on Brad received the most views all week. Proud of her work, and secretly intoxicated by the power her bullhorn yielded, she upgraded her iPhone to the newest model and got an unlimited data plan so she could easily stay on top of the outrages that never seemed to end.
Brad had trouble finding a new job. A dozen other blogs picked up Katie’s story and now the first page of Google was bombed with accusations that he was a racist and a future murderer. Brad couldn’t even get a job as a waiter because local restaurants were now googling their applicants like the big corporations were. No one wanted to take a chance on hiring someone that could potentially hurt their business, especially with so many gossip blogs breathing down their neck for the latest controversy.
Brad did some odd construction jobs here and there, ironically working alongside the very Mexicans he didn’t care for, but the gigs didn’t pay the bills. Six months after being written about in The Denouncer, Brad had to move back in with his parents. His truck broke down but he couldn’t afford to fix it. He couldn’t even go target shooting with his gun because bullets were too expensive. He considered changing his name but employers would still be able to find his original name after doing a standard background check.
Many other men in Brad’s position would start their own company, but Brad was not an entrepreneur. He was a simple man who could execute simple tasks that were told to him and not much more. With one article, Katie effectively ruined his life. He wasn’t smart or skilled enough to overcome it.
“Hey Dad, can I borrow $100?” Brad asked his father, his head slightly lowered.
“Borrow or have? You’re not working right now.”
“I have a friend in New York who said he can line up a job for me, so I just need the bus fare. I’ll be able to pay it back.”
“Bus fare? It’s going to take four days to get there by bus.”
“I know, but it’s the cheapest option. I’ll pay it back, Dad, I promise.”
His dad bought the story and gave him the money. Three days later he began his journey to the big city with only a small duffel bag.
Brad wasn’t quite a country boy but he was nonetheless amazed at the size and noise of New York. He could see how other people would be drawn to it, like mosquitos to warm skin, but it was too much stimulation for him. It didn’t seem like a city made for humans, and maybe it was this type of environment that caused a person like Katie Easterly to be so quick to judge him as non-human, worthy of financial violence. Of course he lied to his dad—there was no friend who was setting him up for a job. He was here for revenge.
Brad already knew where The Denouncer office was in SoHo because it was profiled on another site as being the hippest in the city with foosball tables, motorized scooters, and a hot yoga room. He also knew how Katie looked like because of the many photos available on her Twitter and even knew what time she usually left work because of her habit for oversharing the smallest details of her life. On the first day he camped outside of her office, he didn’t see her. He started to have doubts that his plan would work and if he could really go through with it.
He spent the night outside, barely able to sleep, and returned back to the office in the afternoon. To draw attention away from his stalking, he pretended to panhandle, making enough money to buy an underwhelming $14 sandwich. Finally, at exactly 5:35pm, Katie walked out of the office. The first thought that struck Brad’s mind was how much fatter she was in person than in her carefully managed online photos, but it was definitely her—he recognized the same strong jaw and broad nose.
He followed her into the subway all the way to the brownstone she lived in Brooklyn. He considered abandoning his plan but then he remembered the nothingness he would go back to in his dad’s Phoenix suburb, the complete lack of hope that the next day might be better. He stood across the street from her building, thinking, waiting, and not ten minutes later Katie came out with a little dog. He followed her to a nearby park. She was oblivious to his presence as she listened to music and caught up on text messages and new dating matches.
With one hand in his bag, he walked up to her in the park.
“Why did you ruin my life?” he asked.
Katie frowned and looked him up and down. “Umm, I don’t know you.”
“No, you do. You posted a picture of me holding a gun and told people to get me fired. Now I can’t get a job anywhere. Why did you do that?”
It took Katie a few seconds for her to remember the article. Her attack was abstract, a piece of content for the blog that was seemingly unconnected to real life. “It’s just a blog,” she replied, annoyed that this man was intruding on her afternoon. She started to feel creeped out, and wondered why his hand was inside a bag.
“YOU RUINED MY LIFE,” Brad yelled. People started looking.
“Okay now you’re scaring me,” Katie said. She yanked on the leash and started walking away while simultaneously making a call on her phone. Brad followed her.
Brad’s only fault in life was that he was an average man. He was destined not to greatness, but to having a mediocre job in a mediocre town with mediocre entertainments to fill his time. Getting out of the hole that Katie put him in was too great a task. Someone more capable would have thought of other options beyond what he was about to do, but Brad believed this was the only way to end his pain.
He pulled out his gun from the duffel bag. He ran up to Katie and grabbed her shoulder, spinning her around as she yelled out “Get off of me!” The last thing she saw was a shaking gun pointed at her chest. Her phone fell first onto the pavement, then the leash, and then gravity finally brought her body down to earth. The dog started barking at Brad, whose only thought was how little blood there was. He put the gun to his temple, closed his eyes, inhaled deeply, and squeezed the trigger. The dog went silent, laying next to its master, waiting for her to wake up.
The Denouncer did a series of commemoration articles on Katie, using her murder as evidence that more work must be done against heterosexual white men who hate women and minorities. During the news cycle of the murder-suicide, a policeman in Chicago put out a tweet. He wrote: “If you ruin a man’s life, don’t be shocked when he tries to ruin yours.” The tweet made it to the desk of Jessica Ryan, an up-and-coming intern on The Denouncer’s team.
In Katie’s honor, someone who she considered a friend, Jessica did an article on the policeman stating how he was blatantly encouraging murder against women. “How can he serve and protect when it’s soooo obvious he agrees with the actions of Katie’s horribly misogynistic killer?” She got him fired within 81 minutes, a new record. The next day she arrived at work to applause from her co-workers—it was her very first firing bonus.
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