The Rocket-Powered Cat


Lou Antonelli


I was standing in the supermarket checkout line as I saw a half dozen tabloid sheets sitting in the racks. All had different takes on the killing.

"Powell dies in Data Mine Collapse"

"Cupid's Arrow Smites Sociobiology Snitch"

"Loose Lips Sinks Dating Ships"

"Powell's Pardners Ends in Tragedy"

"Hell Hath No Fury..."

And the headline for the News of the Nation--where I worked-- "We Let the Cat Out of the Bag."

An old lady in front of me looked me in the face, looked at the rack, and then back at me. She recognized me and shook her head.

In the St. Petersburg area, all the tabloid newspaper headquarters were in the same general vicinity. The News of the Nation was a typical large windowless boxy office building. There were parts of it I had never ventured into.

The Editor-in-Chief's office was not a place I would normally pass by, so he called for me.

"How would you like to interview J.R. Powell?"

He was cracking his neck and looking away.

"Like he needs any more publicity?"

Dansko fixed his gaze on me. "He's hard to ignore, you know."

Any intern can interview a publicity hound like him."

John Dansko was a journalism veteran. He started in the business when major newspapers were still ink and paper, and he took the job at the *News of the Nation* so he could gather a little nest egg for his retirement. Despite the long hours and sedentary lifestyle, he still had a formidably stocky build.

"Yes, he's been overexposed. We need a new angle. That's why I think you should interview him."

He lowered his voice and wagged his bushy brows. "You're still young and uncorrupted!"

"Screw you!" I laughed.

"Honestly, I think you have the sensitivity to snoop out a fresh angle on this story."

He sucked on a nicotine stick and looked thoughtful. "It would be a real coup if you could find out, at the risk of using a cliché, the secret of his success."

I guess Dansko could tell from my body language I was interested.

"What we-- you-- could contribute to the big picture is to find out how much of this is the software system--really, despite what Powell claims--and how much of this is just old fashioned bullshit and razzle-dazzle."

"In other words," he said as he put his arms around my narrow shoulders, "this is one those special times when what we are looking for and real journalism happen to coincide."

"OK," I thought, "so Powell is fair game for an exposé."

"Sounds good," I said.

Dansko smiled and rubbed his hands. "Take a couple of days and do some serious research, and then we'll fly you to Dallas."

I nonchalantly gave him the traditional journalism salute as I left.

With the Powell Pardners' jingle running through my head, I spent a couple of days downloading and reading everything I could find on the dating service. I needed to do some serious research if I was going to get any special insight into Powell and his system.

Matchmaking goes back thousands of years. Only a century ago the most reliable of operations would be an umbrella-carrying shadkan strolling down the block on the Lower East Side. We had one in my family.

Just a generation ago computer databases and video archives tried to improve on that record, with little success. I remembered the hilarious "Lowered Expectations" parodies on Mad TV when I was a kid.

Then John Roberts Powell did a cannonball into the nationwide pool of singles.

I kept reading through files on the flight to Dallas. As we crossed the Texas-Louisiana border, the captain pointed out Lake Columbia below us.

The usual languages and software used in data mining went by as I read: Intelligent data base management systems, link analysis tools, automatic--the tools of so many cyber sweatshops.

DFW Airport was shrouded in a steady drizzle, and it spritzed the whole way into Dallas. You could see along the highway the new growth forest rising up as a result of the increased rainfall.

Dallas' economy was picking up as businesses fled Houston, fearful of what the rising Gulf of Mexico might do. Galveston and Texas City were already under the waves, and the booms protecting Houston were overloaded.

As I walked through the lobby of the North Dallas Radisson, I saw boxes of filters laying on a pallet. I knew they were having to run the AC constantly to keep the humidity at bay.

My room was clammy but not too bad. I put the portable dehumidifier on the desk as I opened my laptop and popped up a few holopages.

J.R. Powell was 60 and basking in this success which had come to him so late in life. He was careful to remain the front man and personification of the business, and it took some intensive googling to come up with the names of a few people I felt might be key contributors to his success.

About the Author
Lou Antonelli is a longtime newspaper editor and reporter with multiple awards from Texas Press Association in editorial, column and feature writing. Antonelli's first published story was Silvern, published by RevolutionSF in June, 2003, and his second story published here, Silence is Golden, earned an Honorable Mention in Gardner Dozois' 21st annual Year's Best SF. A third story, Pen Pal, was published here earlier this year.

The Rocket-Powered Cat © Lou Antonelli
About the Artist

Erin Merlino is an art student at Texas State University in San Marcos. She's working towards a BFA in Studio Art, with a specialization in drawing. A selection of her work can be viewed online here and she can be reached via email at

Artwork © Erin Merlino