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Turtles All the Way Down(14)
Author: John Green

—WILLIAM JAMES

I don’t know what superpower William James enjoyed, but I can no more choose my thoughts than choose my name.

The way he talked about thoughts was the way I experienced them—not as a choice but as a destiny. Not a catalog of my consciousness, but a refutation of it.

When I was little, I used to tell Mom about my invasives, and she would always say, “Just don’t think about that stuff, Aza.” But Davis got it. You can’t choose. That’s the problem.

The other interesting thing about Davis’s online presence was that everything ceased the day his father went missing. He’d posted on the blog almost every day for more than two years, and then on the afternoon after his dad disappeared, he wrote:

“Sleep tight, ya morons.”

—J. D. SALINGER

I think this is good-bye, my friends, although, then again: No one ever says good-bye unless they want to see you again.

It made sense. People had probably started snooping around—I mean, if I could find his secret blog, I imagine the cops could, too. But I wondered whether Davis had really quit the internet entirely, or whether he’d just decamped to some farther shore.

I couldn’t pick his trail back up, though. Instead, I got stuck searching his usernames and variants of them, and ended up meeting a lot of people who weren’t my Davis Pickett—the fifty-three-year-old Dave Pickett who was a truck driver in Wisconsin; the Davis Pickett who’d died of ALS after years of posting short blog entries written with the help of eye-tracking software; a Twitter user named dallgoodman whose blog was nothing but vitriolic threats directed at members of Congress. I found a reddit account that commented on Butler basketball and so probably belonged to Davis, but that, too, had been silent since Pickett Sr.’s disappearance.

“I’m very close,” Daisy said suddenly. “Very, very close. If only I were as good at life as I am at the internet.” I looked up, returning to the sensorial plane of Applebee’s. Daisy was tapping at her phone with one hand while holding her cup of water with the other. Everything was loud and bright. At the bar, people were shouting about some sports occurrence. “What’ve you got?” she asked me as she put down her water.

“Um, Davis had a girlfriend, but they broke up last November-ish. He has a blog, but hasn’t updated anything since his dad disappeared. I don’t know. In the blog, he seems . . . sweet, I guess.”

“Well, I’m glad you’ve used your internet detective skills to determine that Davis is sweet. Holmesy, I love you, but find some info on the case.”

So I did. The Indianapolis Star wrote about Russell Pickett a lot because his company was one of Indiana’s biggest employers, but also because he was constantly getting sued. He had some huge real estate deal downtown that devolved into multiple lawsuits; his former executive assistant and Pickett Engineering’s chief marketing officer had both sued him for sexual harassment; he’d been sued by a gardener on his estate for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act; the list went on and on.

In all those articles, the same lawyer was quoted—Simon Morris. Morris’s website described his company as “a boutique law firm focusing on the comprehensive needs of high-net-worth individuals.”

“Can I get a charge off your computer BTW?” She actually said the letters B-T-W, which I wanted to point out required more syllables than just saying “by the way,” but she was clearly locked into something. Without ever taking her eyes from her phone, Daisy reached into her purse, pulled out a USB cable, and handed it to me. I plugged it into my laptop, and she just mumbled, “That’s better, thanks; I’m really close here.”

I noticed Holly had come with my to-go order. I cracked the plastic container and grabbed a couple fries before returning to my investigation of Pickett. I stumbled onto a website called Glassdoor, where current and former employees could review the company anonymously. Observations about Russell Pickett himself included:

“The CEO is skeezy as hell.”

“Russell Pickett is a straight-up megalomaniac.”

“I’m not saying Pickett executives make you break the law, but we do frequently hear executives start sentences with ‘I’m not saying you should break the law, but . . .’”

So that’s the kind of guy Pickett was. And although he’d gotten around all the lawsuits by settling them, the criminal investigation wouldn’t go away. From what I could gather, the company had bribed a bunch of state officials in exchange for contracts to build a better sewer overflow system in Indianapolis.

Fifteen years ago, the government had set aside all this money to clean up the White River by building more sewage retention pools and expanding this tunnel system that runs underneath downtown, diverting a creek called Pogue’s Run. The idea was that within a decade, the sewers would stop dumping into the river every time it rained. Pickett Engineering had gotten the initial contract, but they’d never finished the work, and it had gone way over budget, so the government pulled the contract from Pickett’s company and allowed anyone to bid on finishing the project.

And then, even though they’d done a terrible job the first time, Pickett Engineering won the new contract—apparently by bribing state officials. Two of Pickett’s executives had already been arrested and were believed to be cooperating with the police. Pickett himself hadn’t yet been charged, although an editorial in the paper from three days before his disappearance criticized the authorities: “The Indianapolis Star Has Enough Evidence to Indict Russell Pickett; Why Don’t the Authorities?”

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