Dogged

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Dogged

By Martin Ross

Category: Casefile

Rating: PG-13

Summary: The way to a man’s crimes sometimes is through his stomach.

Disclaimer: Once again, a nod to Chris Carter.

“A gurgitator?” Scully choked.

It was a particularly apt reaction, given the immediate subject matter.

“Or competitive eater, if you prefer,” Mulder sighed patiently.

“I’d prefer to be home,” Scully groused as she dodged a hyperkinetic toddler. When

her partner had proposed a Saturday jaunt to the Big Apple, she’d been pleasantly, if

warily, surprised. When Mulder packed his ID and gun, Scully’s suspicions had been

confirmed. Astroland — one of the last of the great amusement parks on Coney

Island — was packed on this unseasonably warm late spring day, and packed with

New Yorkers, which to Scully’s view elevated the situation to a Yellow Alert.

“It’s one of the most truly democratic sports endeavors, Scully,” Mulder continued,

having developed a resistance to her whining on the drive up. “An opportunity for the

everyman to compete, stomach to stomach, with his fellow everymen. Or

everywoman, I suppose — Sonya ‘The Black Widow’ Thomas, AKA Lee Sun-Kyung,

set the U.S. hotdog record last year. World record, of course, belongs to Takeru

Kobayashi of Japan. Winner every year since 2001, topped out in 2004 at 53 1/2

wienies.”

“Cut to the chase, Rain Man,” Scully said, as a large woman anointed her with a

dripping soft-serve cone. “Why are spending this beautiful, sunny Saturday chubby

chasing?”

“That’s a common misconception, Scully. Thomas and Kobayashi are svelte and

sassy gurgitators. Being overweight isn’t an advantage: Stomach elasticity is usually

considered the key to eating success, and competitors commonly train by drinking

large amounts of water over a short time to stretch out the stomach. Excess fat on

the body is a disadvantage — it prevents the stomach from expanding as much as it

otherwise could.”

“Fascinating,” Scully grunted as the pair approached a elevated stage surrounded by

Yawkers and tourists loaded with digital cameras and empty calories. The large

scarlet “Beefy Barkers” banner flapped in the hearty spring breeze, with the Yankees-

capped Barkers hound undulating somewhat obscenely above the throng.

Mulder shouldered past a gangsta-garbed gawker on the sidelines. “The Beefy

Barkers competition is one of the first of the season — the Nathan’s Famous Fourth of

July International Hot Dog-Eating Contest is the Superbowl, the Gala of Gustatory

Glory.”

“The Gaudy Gathering of Gratuitously Gluttonous Gawkers.”

“You’re an acutely acidic architect of alliterative allusions, Scully. Haul your perky

little ass — I think they’re about to start.”

“La-dies and gentle-men,” a lanky, buxom brunette in a red Beefy Barkers T-shirt

and white short-shorts heralded from the stage. “If I could have your attention?

Welcome to the Sixth Annual Beefy Barker Weiner Wolf, everybody!!”

“We’ve brought together some of the world’s top competitive eaters today, and we

plan to gorge them with our new Barkers DeLuxe jumbo franks. All-beef, no

byproducts, and now enhanced with calcium. The first wiener that’s a winner in the

war on osteoporosis.”

“Ahh, the pageantry,” Scully murmured.

“Helping us today is our panel of celebrity judges and sausage aficionados.” The

Beefy Barker babe gestured toward a trio of individuals onstage. “Wolgang Rainier,

star of the McBain action films, is a long-time bratwurst buff, while Frida Cornthwaite

is managing editor of The Processor, the industry’s major lunchmeat and wiener

journal. Gary Diggs is the former bass guitarist for Tuberculosis and an avowed

frankfurter addict. Give it up, folks!”

Diggs grinned lazily under his Raybans as a smattering of applause echoed through

the park. A stone-faced Rainier appeared ready to shower the crowd with bullets.

Cornthwaite looked merely frightened.

“Now, under International Federation of Competitive Eating rules, all our competitors

today are over 18 years of age. Anyone who suffers what we call ‘a Roman incident’ –

– and anybody who saw the famed Burt Reynolds coliseum sketch can guess what we

mean — is disqualified if the result of that ‘incident’ touches the plate or table. Once

time has elapsed, competitors can rid themselves of the massive amount of food

they’ve just eaten however they like…”

“I believe I’m going to rid myself of a massive amount of food in about three

seconds,” Scully groaned. “Why are we here, Mulder?”

“He’s standing right there — the skinny guy.” Mulder pointed to a thin but steel-

abbed young man standing to the right of the stage between a large, long-haired

Sasquatch and a petite Asian woman. “Jacob Custer — first place in the 2001

national Bagel Eating Competition, 2002 winner in the world Pie Eating Derby,

second runnerup in the Nathan’s dog competition three years running. Jake was a

major player in gurgitation ‘til three years ago, when he was sidelined by a digestive

parasite that resulted in a very public ‘Roman incident,” which by the way…”

“I got it. What’s this geek’s day job?”

“Actually, a geek is a carnival or circus performer who eats traditionally non-food

items. However, Jake is quite comfortable as a software designer — or at least he

was until recently. He and a couple of work associates broke off from Cloysoft last

year to launch their own music and movie download software. One of Cloysoft’s

competitors offered a few million basically to shut them down, and the partners got

medieval on Jake’s ass. He didn’t get a penny out of the deal, and he called them

‘cybercannibals’ in a web interview. That’s why he’s back on the competitive eating

circuit, or so they say.”

Scully glanced up at the stage as the wiener wench introduced Jake to lukewarm

applause. “What do you say, Mulder?”

“One of the partners, Donald Bakke, disappeared last weekend between subway

stops. His fiancé filed a report, but the NYPD couldn’t find any clues. Then Sal

Bahnsen — the other partner — vanished Tuesday after leaving his loft studio.”

“And you think he had something to do with it?”

“I made a few calls, and Bakke’s girlfriend said he’d been talking about mending

fences with Jake. What if Jake decided he didn’t want to mend fences with him?”

Scully sighed as Sasquatch mounted the stage, waving both colossal arms WWF-

style. “Mulder, this is New York – I’m amazed anyone makes it home alive. Did the

cops talk to Custer?”

Mulder studied his shoe for a moment. “They weren’t exactly dogging his trail. They

found Bakke’s wallet a block from the first subway station, empty, and Bahnsen’s got

a history of enthusiastic partying and three-day blackouts. They think he’ll show up a

few days from now with a Robert Urich of a headache. And they say Jake is totally

chipper and cheery – showing up to his new telemarketing job, sharing caffe lattes

with his pals, just generally not acting like a double murderer.”

“I have to admit, it doesn’t sound precisely like a compelling case, Mulder,” Scully

said as the crowd applauded apathetically for the lanky third contestant. “What’s got

you so convinced of this man’s guilt?”

“I have a theory,” Mulder said cryptically. “Hey, here come the wienies.”

“Thought they already introduced them.” Scully shook her head silently as the

emcee’s twin triplets marched onstage carrying three silver trays laden with super

sized New York-style kosher dogs and three plastic cups.

“Papaya juice,” Mulder ventured. “The beverage of choice for Big Apple hotdog

aficionados. I did tell you this was Jake’s return engagement, didn’t I? His little

episode traumatized him right out of the game.”

“Game?” Scully breathed. “With half the population suffering from obesity and

cardiac disease and the other half living below the poverty line, I can’t think of any

more fitting salute to American decadence and overindulgence. I can hardly stomach

this.”

“Might be that tightly constricted sphincter of yours.”

A shot broke the air, and Jake Custer and his rivals dove into their steaming piles of

wieners.

“A reverse Kobayashi,” Mulder marveled as Custer’s cheeks puffed with meat and

dough. “See how he’s shoving the bun in first, then splitting the dog and swallowing

both halves together. It’s Kobayashi’s technique backwards. Shrewd modification –

the moist dogs probably help chase the dry buns better.”

Scully’s brow arched. “I don’t think I’ve ever been more turned on by your esoteric

knowledge.”

“The big fella’s doing the Kobayashi Shake – the champ wiggles his upper body to

work the food down his esophagus. And she may not be flashy, but see how she’s

using the papaya juice as a lubricant?”

“It’s etched permanently on my retinas. Have you unearthed any clues yet?”

“Matter of fact, yes. See how Godzilla’s fading already? But Jake’s still going strong –

he’s halfway through his dogs.”

Custer’s female competitor suddenly paled, and expelled a chunk of frank. The

wiener wench blew a whistle, and the woman slunk dejectedly from the stage. The

giant glanced sideways at Custer, gaining his second wind and shoving two dogs at

once into his wobbling jowls.

Without looking up, Custer began to rip and shovel dogs in a blur of gluttonous

frenzy. A sweat broke on Goliath’s brow, and as the emcee sounded an airhorn, he

staggered back deliriously. Custer pumped the air with his fists, cheeks still

distended, and the crowd came to life.

“Wonder how he trained,” Mulder murmured. “This is his first competition in nearly

three years, but he doesn’t seem to have missed a beat. You know, stomach

elasticity is considered the key to successful competitive eating. Wonder how he got

his tone back. Ok, let’s go.”

Scully stood transfixed, pondering Mulder’s cryptic inquiry. Then, as he strode

through the departing throng toward the stage, she gave chase.

“Wow, dude, that was awesome!” Mulder proclaimed as he hopped on stage and held

out his fist. Grinning around a mouthful of wiener, Custer bumped Mulder’s knuckles

and reached for his juice.

“I mean, look at Big Boy over there. Looks like he’s about to hork.”

Custer glanced toward the vanquished titan, who flopped onto a nearby bench. He

swallowed twice and reappraised Mulder. “Good to meet you, pal, but I gotta get my

check. Ciao, OK?”

“Aw, sure,” Mulder smiled goofily. Then he blinked as he examined the single dog

remaining on Custer’s tray. “Jesus, what the hell?”

“What?”

As Scully stared, puzzled, Mulder plucked a small, stringy object from the frankfurter.

“Looks like some kinda worm, dude. Oh, yeah, it’s one of those whattya call its. My

cousin had one…”

Custer backed almost off the back of the stage, a hand clamped over his mouth.

“Oh yeah, yeah,” Mulder chuckled, displaying the creature. “Tapeworm. This thing’s

pregnant, you may be able to triple your hotdog intake three times overnight.”

And that’s when all hell – or the nearest equivalent – broke out.

New York Police Department Forensic Laboratory

3:23 p.m.

“Even if we find what you’re hoping to find, Mulder, I’m not sure this would hold up

as evidence.”

“Plain sight,” Mulder emphasized as he watched the lab technician processing the

sample he’d secured as Custer stumbled from the stage. “No warrant needed.”

“But it’s, it’s entrapment,” Scully protested. “It’s forced…regurgitation. Not to

mention that you had that parasite in your pocket in the car? And by the way, what

do you hope to find?”

Mulder leaned on an autoclave. “What if Bakke and Bahnsen had second thoughts

about screwing Custer over, and dropped in on him to make peace. Except maybe

they weren’t offering a big enough peace, and he lost his cool. So then he’s left with

two dead buddies in the middle of Manhattan. How does he dispose of the bodies?”

Scully frowned, then her jaw drooped. “You cannot possibly be serious.”

“He’d compared his former partners’ theft of his idea with cannibalism. Maybe he

decided to mete out a little poetic justice and came out of retirement for a little

‘competitor eating.’”

“And then Custer, what, decided to top it off with a few dozen hot dogs?”

Mulder shrugged. “You may be closer than you think. Maybe his act of cannibalism

kicked off some kind of primal appetite.”

“You know what I think, Mulder?” Scully murmured. “I think your theory is—”

“100 percent bovine DNA.” The technician sighed as he handed Mulder a computer

printout. “Well, and traces of some kind of fruit.”

“Papaya,” Scully supplied. “Well, Mulder, at least your little test has vindicated the

Beefy Barker folks.”

“Glad I missed the Yankees for this,” the tech snorted, heading for the hall.

Mulder studied the DNA analysis glumly.

“I’m sorry, Mulder,” she finally said, quietly. “I know…” Her lips twitched. “I know it

must be eating you up.”

Apartment of Jacob Custer

Greenwich Village, New York

6:06 p.m.

The door crashed in as Custer was prepping dinner. He dropped the knife onto the

table next to the unconscious Sal Bahnsen and dropped to the tile.

“Second course is in here, Agent,” the cop informed Mulder. “Pulse is weak, but

Bakke’s still alive. Probably drugged ‘em.”

“You,” Custer gasped as he recognized his “fan.”

“Sorry to just drop in at suppertime,” Mulder said, kneeling next to the near-

murderer. “It wasn’t too hard to trace the chloroform and the duct tape you bought.

Don’t feel too bad, though – I almost blew it. ‘Til I realized I had it backwards.

Stomach elasticity, Jake. The hotdogs were just the prelim – you were warming up

for the main event.”

end

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