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If the fifty words and phrases on Lycos’ annual
"Web’s Most Wanted" list came together in a single
hard-boiled detective story, would it provide a revealing
glimpse at the online collective unconscious? Or would it
simply be a cheap excuse to create the most
accidentally-visited Web page ever?

"Call me Nick."
I flag the bartender, order another Scotch. Apprehensively nursing her Gibson, Britney spears a cocktail onion with a toothpick. Her baby-t rides up, I catch the glint of a bellybutton ring. I wonder if she has any tattoos, and where.
She catches me staring and I blurt out a little Ralph Cramden stutter. "Heminemena!" Smooth, Nick Napster. Real smooth. I shake it off, promise that’ll be my final fantasy about this potential client.
"It’s my kid sister, Jennifer," Britney says once we’re back in sync. "She’s disappeared."
I take down details: On Halloween, Jennifer left home to run some errands for a Mrs. Pamela Simpson– cancer survivor, former opera singer–while her son Harry was out of town for a baseball game. She took the dog, Bizkit, for a walk and never returned.
I take the case in a blink–182 bucks per day plus expenses. "I’ll have Jennifer back by Christmas," I promise, taking Britney’s hand as platonically as possible, a sympathetic big brother.

I drive up to The Simpsons’ house from the south, park in the driveway next to a blue VW Golf, license plate DMX-1174. No answer to my knock so I let myself in, snoop around. On the walls are posters from old lady Simpson’s opera career, an eclectic mix of classical and modern: Bizet’s Carmen, Electra by Mikis Theodorakis, Heidi in Frankfurt by the under-appreciated Peter Jona Korn. CDs scattered by the stereo: more opera, the latest posthumous effort from Tupac Shakur – I peg that for the kid’s. I’m puzzling over the unlikely appearance of a Mariah Carey disc when I hear a sob.
"They killed my dog!" moans Pamela Simpson. I turn and see her holding the limp Bizkit in her arms. She found him in the woods behind the house. No sign of my client’s sister. A quick exam of the expired pooch turns up one very hinky cause of death: heroin overdose.
I mentally extend my deadline to Valentine’s Day.

Mrs. Simpson is in no shape to talk, so I make my exit. A snotty-looking teenager is skateboarding in the street, singing along with his Discman: "And it’s just like honey when your love comes over me…" I’m about to get in the car when something occurs to me.
"Hey kid, whaddaya know about the folks who live in this house?"
"Frick you, mister. I never met ‘em." He starts to kick away. I stomp hard on his board and the punk flips over backwards like a Russian gymnast at the Summer Olympics.
I get him in a headlock. "You left your Mariah Carey CD at their house." I squeeze tighter. "Now tell me about Pamela and ‘er son."
"Awright, awright. Get yer gundam wing offa me," he gasps. "I know Harry the same way everyone does. We play baseball and he lets me smoke his dope."
I haul the kid up by his collar. "Marijuana?"
"The guy’s the biggest stoner in school. They call him Harry Potter."
"Harry do anything else? Heroin maybe?"
He spat. "Harry doesn’t chase the dragon–ball and weed are all he’s interested in."
"Who’s your friend’s grass connection?"
"Fuhggedit. I’m no snitch." Snitches always say that. A quick beating and he’s singing like Shania Twain. Says try this Rasta guy down at the docks. A 20 minute drive. I make it in 17.

Night. The waterfront is deserted. Stray cat. Lonely whore trolling for a sailor. Moon gives just enough light to show the way. I find the place, rattle the gate.
A voice from inside. "What ya want, mon?"
"An’ what would I know, mon? I’m just an ordinary fisherman."
"Yeah, and I’m Christina Aguilera." I snap a crisp bill in front of the peephole. After a second, the gate swings open.
The air is thick with sweet smoke. Three Jamaicans eye me suspiciously. One of them presses a plastic baggie into my hand. Ganja.
"That’s not what I’m here for."
The chief considers me for a second, nods to his flunkies. "Get the X, men."
"I don’t want your MDMA, either. I just thought I could ask you about something."
"Oh, digimon? An’ why should I tell you anything?" He holds out his palm. I open my wallet.
The Jamaican listens to my story, tells me I’m looking for a Las Vegas sleazeball they call El Diablo. "Him try ta set up in my territory, but I talk him outta dis ya."
"How’d you do that?"
He snaps open a hunting knife and presses it against my cheek. "I give him a little poke, mon."

Twenty-two hours later I’m in a Vegas staking out a zero-star casino. An hour after that, he comes out: a mean-looking Mexican with a four-inch knife scar on his cheek.
"El Diablo?" I back him into a corner.
"Chew got the wrong guy," he says. "No soy El Diablo."
"Oh really? Where’d you get that scar?"
"Ees na’scar. Ees birthmark."
I don’t have time for this. I yank open the door of my Mustang, force the prick’s hand inside and slam hard.
The tough guy clutches his broken fingers and fights back tears.
"Ay! Jesus y Madonna!" He’s as angry as a Gore supporter after election 2000. "I thought chew was INS."
"No, and I’m not the IRS, the NFL or the NBA, either. So let’s talk, Diablo."
"Okay, but I ain’…"
I open the car door.
"No, no! I swear on the Bible. Somebody was confused ees all. El Diablo was mi papa, may he rest in peace."
"So what do I call you, Diablo II?"
"My name is Lopez."
"I’m looking for a girl named Jennifer, Lopez. Where is…"
WWFFF! THUD! A bullet whizzes past my head and buries itself in the wall.
I wheel and reach for my piece. Too late. Something heavy comes down on the back of my head. As my knees give way I hear Lopez hiss: "Take him out in the backstreet, boys." There’s another blow, and another. Then blackness.

I wake up with my head pounding like Anna Kournikova just used it for practice. The taste in my mouth is metallic. A moan escapes my lips and over my shoulder, a girl laughs.
"I guess you found me." A face blurs in and out of focus. Britney? Not quite…
"Jennifer." I stagger to my feet.
She laughs again. "I’m sorry about Mrs. Simpson’s dog. Lopez promised to get me a gig as a showgirl, but he said we had to make it look like a kidnapping. I knew about the drugs and the gang wars with the Jamaicans, but I wanted to be a star, wars or no wars. I didn’t know it would get so out of hand."
"It always does," I tell her.

"So that’s it?" Britney seems slightly unsatisfied at the conclusion of her case.
"Why? You see any loose ends?"
"Well, I mean, don’t you want to go back to my place and chat? Talk about the weather or the news or movies? Listen to MP3 music? Exchange greeting cards?"
"Not necessary," I explain, catching her drift. "The Lycos top 50 list disregards general category terms and queries regarding Internet utilities, such as the ones you mentioned as well as ‘screensavers’ and ‘auctions.’ It’s all in the FAQ."
"But what about…" Britney whispers in my ear.
"Sorry, kid, they also screen out prurient content, pornographic terms and other lewd queries," I say. "But if you think it’ll help, sure–let’s have sex."
Britney giggles charmingly. "Oral sex? Anal sex? Blowjobs? Teen sluts? Bestiality? Spanking?"
"Cool it," I interrupt. "Now you’re just getting desperate."

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Modern Humorist is not intended for readers under 18 years of age.