The drive home was a complete blur, except for how he felt, which was vindicated and energized in his righteousness. When he parked in front of his house, it occurred to him that he might be covered in blood or wearing shredded clothing. What if his wife saw him that way? But in examining his hands he didn’t see any evidence of blood or guts or gore. And, he realized, his hands were back to human form — no claws, no wiry gray fur on his knuckles. His Browns sweatshirt wasn’t shredded. There was no evidence, from what he could tell; it could all have been a dream.
After taking a few deep breaths, he got out of the car and walked briskly into the house. The majority of the lights were off and it seemed everyone was asleep. He crept upstairs and replaced the amber vial in the medicine cabinet, where it glowed at him, knowingly, almost menacingly, before he closed the door on it. Then he brushed his teeth, washed his face, changed into a clean tee shirt and climbed into bed next to his sleepy wife. She didn’t stir. He kissed her on the cheek and nestled in next to her, falling asleep almost instantly.
Pastor Doug woke after his wife, which was unusual. Again he found himself feeling energized and excited for the day, and started with pushups, squats, lunges, and even dug out some old dumbbells from the closet to do some inclined rows and presses before he took a shower, dressed, and headed downstairs. He could smell the coffee his wife had made, as well as bacon. He couldn’t stop smiling.
“Morning, honey!” he called as he entered the kitchen. He rounded the corner and saw a look of terror on her face.
“Doug,” she said, “this is awful.”
He followed her gaze to the TV in the living room, blaring a news story about a gruesome murder overnight at a local bar.
So it hadn’t been a dream.
He wasn’t sure what to say, out of fear of incriminating himself.
“It’s monstrous,” Jeannette said. Pastor Doug nodded. She turned to him. “His throat was ripped out. A cleaning person found him taking out the trash this morning, can you imagine?” Pastor Doug shook his head.
“Who was he?” he managed to stammer out.
“A local electrician,” Jeannette said. “And a big philanthropist, apparently. He did a lot of work for Big Brothers, Big Sisters. Who would do this to someone like that?”
“Maybe it was an animal,” Pastor Doug offered.
“Maybe,” Jeannette said. “But what kind of animal hangs out at sports bars on Thursday nights?”
“Sounds random,” Pastor Doug agreed. He grabbed a slice of bacon. His wife just stared dead-eyed at the TV.
“I’m gonna head into the clinic a little early today, finish up some paperwork,” Pastor Doug told her.
“You don’t want coffee?” she asked him.
“No,” he said, “I’ll just have some there.”
“I thought you said the coffee at the clinic was terrible.”
He paused for a moment. He was acting weird. “Okay, maybe a to-go cup.”
“I’ll make it for you,” she said.
He watched her move about the kitchen, this woman he loved, the mother of his child. Would she hate him if she knew he had committed the atrocity she was so stunned by? Would she be proud if she knew the reason? Was it alright to keep this secret from her? Because he knew he would do it again in a heartbeat, if it meant their child would be even mildly safer.
“Oh, forgot my phone upstairs,” Pastor Doug lied. He bounded up the stairs to their bathroom and took the vial out of the medicine cabinet.
He did go to the clinic, but he didn’t have any paperwork to do. Instead, he settled into doing research on how to capture pedophiles. He had no idea where to begin. Dave had fallen into his lap. He wasn’t sure how he could anonymously track pedophiles down and convince them to meet up with him without exposing himself to the kinds of activities those people participated in. He was sure they posted on forums, exchanging photos and tips and tricks, but he didn’t want to be sullied by their behavior.
It occurred to him that doing this kind of research on his work computer was a bad idea. Even using the clinic’s wifi could set off alarms. He turned the wifi off on his phone and did the torturous work of trying to read tiny screens in incognito mode.
He found several QAnon forums very easily, some of which were purely discussions of who the pedophiles were and where they hung out. But most of it was about political leaders — usually Democrats — in unbelievable situations, drinking the blood of their victims to stay young or trafficking children from the suburbs of small cities for their purposes in vast underground networks that were protected by their power and privilege.
While he couldn’t completely dismiss the claims — wasn’t there often a kernel of truth in even the most outlandish stories? — Pastor Doug wasn’t looking to bring down the government; he was looking to take every day pedophiles out of circulation. The ones who were really preying on his daughter. How could these people spend so much time on these big conspiracy theories without getting down to the truth at hand?
He dug through the anger and ridiculousness, shouted in all-caps into the void of the internet, and tried to find a local list anywhere. He noticed a few comments on some threads on Reddit from someone who seemed genuinely interested in bringing down pedophiles. The user, StopThePedos616, posted resources on reporting suspicious activity to the right officials at rape crisis centers or child protection agencies (often met with responses like, “But they’re in on it, too!”), how to notice grooming, how to talk to a child you suspect is being abused — all very reasonable responses. And it looked like this reasonable person was in Cleveland, too.
Pastor Doug decided to send StopThePedos616 a message.
“You seem to know a lot about stopping pedophiles,” he wrote from an anonymous account. “I’m interested in doing more, tangible work to stop them.”
Then he heard a knock on the door — his first appointment was there. He tucked his phone away and prepared to start his day.
It was a long and grueling day, trying to concentrate on the very real problems of the men and handful of women he spoke to. Pastor Doug’s mind kept wandering back to the work he really wanted to do, and the message he hoped would be waiting in his Reddit inbox. He didn’t even have time to check between appointments, as some went long, or a colleague would drop in to ask him a question.
Finally at 4pm he got a break. Usually this would be a half-hour where he made notes on some files or did some billing work, but instead, Pastor Doug dove into his phone and checked Reddit. There was a message waiting for him from StopThePedos616.
“Are you a cop?”
Pastor Doug paused. Why would this guy think he was a cop? Was that a challenge or an invitation, too? Did he like cops?
“No,” Pastor Doug typed. Should he say he was a pastor, maybe? Or a father? He sent the message without further context.
An ellipsis popped up to indicate that the other person was typing.
“OK,” the response came. “I don’t work with cops.”
Pastor Doug nodded. Right answer then.
“So what does tangible mean?”
Pastor Doug considered this for a moment. Clearly he couldn’t let anyone know that he was actually murdering men he found by random chance.
“I want to do more to get these guys caught,” Pastor Doug wrote, “and brought to justice.”
The ellipsis popped back up. “No, I get that, but what does tangible mean?”
“Oh,” Pastor Doug said aloud. This guy literally didn’t know what tangible meant.
“Like, real,” Pastor Doug typed. He didn’t want to say “physical”. Even though he knew that’s what he wanted — to inflict real, physical damage on these men.
The ellipsis was up for a long time now.
“You’re new to Q?” came the response.
“Yes,” Pastor Doug wrote. “You seem to be the only person who’s actually doing anything to actual pedophiles.”
“Yeah well I can’t touch the Clintons.”
Pastor Doug frowned. This guy was as far into the conspiracy as everyone else.
“Sure,” he typed. “Of course not.”
“But I figure if you start at the bottom the top will fall too.”
“Right,” Pastor Doug typed. “So do you know of any of those bottom dwellers?”
The ellipsis was up for a long time again. Probably the guy was typing and deleting, trying to decide if he could trust Pastor Doug.
“Yeah,” came the beleaguered response. “I’ve got a list.”
“Yes!” Pastor Doug said out loud. Now he was getting somewhere.
“That’s great,” he typed.
“What’s your plan?” asked StopThePedos616. “Because you can’t just call the cops on these people, half of them are cops or friends of cops. It goes really deep. I don’t even trust most of the Child and Family Services people, and they don’t have much sway, but they’re better than nothing a lot of the time.”
“Sure,” Pastor Doug responded. “Of course. So how do you handle it, then? Just wait to report them until you have proof or something?”
“Sort of, yeah. I watch a lot. I do some stuff that’s probably not legal in terms of tracking them online. It’s stupid how stupid they are with their WiFi and stuff. But there’s definitely a group of them that meets up on Friday nights to talk about their conquests.”
A wave of nausea rolled over Pastor Doug. Was this going to be an even bigger treasure trove of justice, just plopped down in front of him?
“Who are they?” he typed. “Where do they meet?”
“A bunch of older men,” came the response. “I’ve been following them for a while. They meet every Friday and I know because I’ve got all their phones tracked. I’m pretty sure they trade kiddie porn and talk about who they’re going to groom next and who they already have or whatever. Really gross stuff.”
“How did you find them?”
“I followed one out of a known child trafficking operation one time,” StopThePedos616 wrote. “And tracked his activity on his phone and his laptop, super easy. Even at work he does this stuff.”
Pastor Doug shook his head. Brazen.
“And then I followed him to this meeting one Friday and there were definitely a bunch of men there, it was all just men, I couldn’t imagine what else they’d be doing.”
“Where do they meet?” Pastor Doug asked again.
StopThePedos616 sent him some coordinates. He clicked on the link and a Google Map opened up. He held the phone away from his face to try and figure out where the place on the screen was pointing him.
It was the church, his church. And Friday nights were when the Elder Board met.