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Cyberbunk

Kevin Massey gets so worked up before he "posts," he can feel the sweat.
His face aglow in the blue light of his 20-inch Sony monitor, he grips a pencil-shaped "mouse" in his right hand--the letters "F-T-W" (Fuck The World) tattooed between his knuckles--and prepares to cast his thoughts worldwide.

At his fingertips lies the Internet and its 30,000 bulletin boards, where anyone with a modem and a few working brain cells can tack something up. Every day the equivalent of 500 thick novels are posted on these unedited sites, which are formally called "newsgroups."

Another, often appropriate term is "kookgroups." People use them to discuss JFK assassination theories, or sex acts with fish, or how the black helicopters are about to enslave us all.

Massey isn't big on any of those, though. He likes to "flame."
The term, long a part of the computer communications vocabulary, means to malign, to run down, to cut someone up on line.

"It's kind of like playing basketball. It's competition," says the rangy, 6-foot-3 ex-con, who goes by the on-line name Mackdaddy. "You're insulting people, but it's all just stupid."

With his X-rated vocabulary and with time on his hands, the Mackdaddy will boot up the computer in his house in the East Texas countryside and trade insults with anyone in cyberspace who's willing to play. The technoserfs who labor in the computer-Internet provider business are typically game.

Between late July and mid-October, Massey and a few other pseudonymous gadflies--Wild Bill, Rudolph Valentino, Lou Gomez, and several more--traded insults with five employees at Internet America, the seventh-largest Internet service provider in the country. The company, which has its headquarters in downtown Dallas, is perhaps best known for its ubiquitous 1-800-Be-A-Geek ads.

It was a flame war of Homeric dimensions, with participants joining in, posting trashy notes for a few days or weeks, then retreating to their tents. The electronic bulletin board on which they were pinned, dfw.flame, was set up specifically for these sorts of potty-mouthed fights, which nobody takes very seriously.

On August 17, for example, D.J. Franchini replied to a missive in which the Mackdaddy said he'd "ask an old woman to pray for you this Sunday."

Franchini, who identified himself in the message as "Internet America Director of Customer Care," with no disclaimer to the contrary, wrote: "Don't worry about it. I'm having your old lady and sister at the house this Sunday. They'll be in the praying stance anyway (on knees) being serviced...Besides, I've made your mom cry for God enough already."

On August 19, another Internet America employee, Jake Decker, posted a note to Mackdaddy: "I have a black belt in GLOCK, there ain't a form in the world to stop that punch...KICKING the shit out of you Mackdaddy would be fun, but then again prolly a bore."

Two months later, their boss, Internet America President Robert Maynard, noticed several gutter insults that Mackdaddy directed toward Maynard and his wife, by name, on a bulletin board typically used for Internet company marketing.

In mid-October, the high-profile 34-year-old CEO declared to a sensation-loving media in phone calls, interviews, and a press release that a "cyberstalker" had taken a bead on him and his family.

He went to Dallas police. He went to the FBI. He brought in private security and claims to have sent his family out of town. On October 14, his lawyers sued for defamation and interference with his business, and got a sweeping restraining order against Kevin Massey from a state judge. As the public relations firm Holland McAlister directed traffic, Maynard showed a TV news crew how he was fighting this "predator" with the first-ever posting of a court order on the Internet.

The story went worldwide for a day--and it has been going straight backward ever since.

The existence of a criminal cyberstalker was dismissed almost immediately by the police and the Internet provider company that sells Massey his $30-a-month link to the Net. Maynard's competitors, and others who looked beyond the first blast of news reports, quickly but privately concluded that this was another publicity stunt by Internet America, which takes an aggressive media-marketing-public relations approach to nearly everything it does.

As the case continues to play out on several computer bulletin boards and in a Dallas civil court, one thing has become clear. Although they inhabit different worlds, two of the loudest, most impulsive, most egotistical spin wizards who ever logged on to a computer have locked onto each other via this raging technology, and now hate each other's guts.

At one end of the bandwidth is the president of a 163-employee company, an ex-Green Beret who, despite his profile as an up-and-comer in the Dallas business community, is battling a federal lawsuit alleging that he misled consumers in an infomercial he made while running a credit repair company in Phoenix.

 

At the other end is a foulmouthed slacker with a prison record who thinks it would be great if all this got him a spot on Howard Stern, and who delights in getting as close to the edge of the law, and people's nerves, as he possibly can.

Maybe it was fate they'd meet on line.

It began in late July with a complaint about a phone call to Internet America. Someone had posted a gripe about the company in the newsgroup dfw.flame.

Massey, who was on line that day, noticed the post and piped in with a few thoughts of his own: "IA is no more than an internet version of that shitty AOL (America Online) that they always compare themselves to!!" he wrote. "I called them just for fun once and was on hold so long I hung up."

According to a service that archives each and every piece of this rot, about 191 postings were made in this "thread," the name of the stack of electronic notes posted in sequence on the same subject. This and later threads developed into the running flame war.

In computerland, there are pockets of people who enjoy irritating the big Internet providers and the software giants like Microsoft, which they accuse of threatening the rights of "netizens" everywhere. Entire newsgroups are dedicated to dissing Microsoft chief Bill Gates. One site, alt.aol-sucks, hosts nothing but flames blown toward America Online.

The object of flaming, by most accounts, is to dispatch one's adversary with a withering riposte. But there were no signs of a budding Dorothy Parker in the Internet America vs. Mackdaddy clash.

In late September, for instance, someone accidentally posted a message in dfw.flame asking if anyone could provide a good home for a Siberian Husky. "Wrong newsgroup, dumbass!" chimed in Wild Bill in his next post. "No it ain't," came the next note, from Joe Bramblett, manager of Internet America's newsgroups. "Mackdingy's been lookin' for a date."

The often-fake e-mail addresses in the postings give an idea of the general level of discussion: blowme "Mcdade Fuck You All."

John Stewart, a 37-year-old Internet America training director who took part in the flame and usually included a disclaimer that his views were his own, seemed a little disappointed in the level of debate. Rudolph Valentino had just posted: "TAKE YOUR CAPS LOCK KEY AND SHOVE IT UP YOUR ASS." So Stewart, tongue in cheek, posted his "Twelve Commandments of Flaming." Number five counseled flamers to threaten lawsuits. Number one suggested making things up about the opposition. Number three suggested "crossposting" to as many other newsgroups as possible. And number 12 read: "Insult the dirtbag. 'Oh yeah? Well your mother does strange things with...'"

Massey and his fellow flamers would try all of them before this war was done.

Nobody needed to tutor Kevin Massey in talking trash.
He grew up tough in blue-collar Pleasant Grove in a family of military men and cops. His dad was an aircraft mechanic and his mother a devout churchgoer. They threw him out of the house, with good reason, when he was in his late teens.

In November 1985, a Dallas police officer on patrol caught Massey, then 19, in a daytime burglary. He and a juvenile accomplice had stolen several pistols, shotguns, and knives from a South Dallas home.

Massey pleaded guilty to home burglary, a first-degree felony, in return for eight years of probation.

In January 1988, Massey was at it again. Police busted him and two other men burglarizing a Pleasant Grove house at 1 o'clock in the afternoon. One of his accomplices was nabbed climbing out of the window with a fur coat in hand. Massey pleaded guilty, caught a five-year sentence, and was behind bars for about nine months, four in the Texas Department of Corrections' Hilltop Unit.

"I've been to the pen and I didn't like it. I know what I can and can't do," Massey says from his home outside Terrell. "I wouldn't step over that line again."

To get to Mackdaddy's place, you take a right when you see his dump truck, a left at the red-and-white mobile home, go straight down the dirt road...well, you get the idea.

He's not fond of revealing where he lives, and goes out of his way to show his guests his assault rifles, shotgun, and .357-caliber pistol. Plywood in a window and shotgun pellet holes inside the sash do a lot to illustrate his story about the previous person who came around uninvited.

Outside Massey's unadorned, newish frame house, cattle lounge in a tranquil meadow. Inside, it's a high-tech cave. The living room is dominated by a huge TV and a pile of children's tapes. Just as prominent is Massey's computer, which includes a scanner to capture images, a machine for manufacturing CD-ROM discs, and a minitower filled with components Massey says he installed himself.

 

Before Khristy, his wife of 17 months, and the couple's two young boys leave for the evening to trick-or-treat at Khristy's grandmother's church in Mesquite, Khristy describes her husband as a man engrossed with his computer.

"He's on there all day," she says, explaining that she is mostly gone in the evenings. She dances at a Dallas topless club at night and takes nursing classes during the day while hoping for a career change.

Stretching out before the computer and removing his shirt to reveal a collection of tattoos from his prison and biker days, the 30-year-old Massey crows confidently: "I'm a spoiled catman. My wife is the breadwinner. I'm Mr. Mom."

Massey has a ponytail, a blondish mustache, and, even in the tamest of conversations, a collection of off-color adjectives that causes his wife to chime in at one point, "Kevin, you can't talk like that."

He's the Mackdaddy because he knows how to "play women," he explains, without seeming to notice how silly that sounds. His big gold "KC" necklace, fake Rolex, and fat nugget bracelet are gifts from the ladies, he says.

Sitting now at his computer, Massey describes in vague terms how he has gone straight since his prison stint. He has worked in construction, sheetrocking--"a jack of all trades," he says. In a deposition in Maynard's lawsuit taken earlier that day, he mentioned pager sales, a stretch as a manager at a Fort Worth topless club, and now computer consulting and Internet training.

"I didn't want any more callouses on my hands," he says. "That's why I pussied up and learned computers."

As the Mackdaddy, Massey posted more than 200 notes in his flame war with the Internet America guys in August and September alone. John Stewart, the Internet America training director, recalls how Massey was such an eager combatant that the Mackdaddy complained when the war bogged down in September, "Come on guys, where are you?"

By the end of the month, though, he would drop a bomb.
Although he claims it was inadvertent, he posted a flame note in dfw.internet.providers, a newsgroup that Internet companies in the North Texas area use to market themselves and snipe at each other. It went right after Robert Maynard, who had not been directly involved in the flame war.

"I wonder if ole Robert has been trying to kill NE of his techs lately??" the Mackdaddy wrote. "Hey you techs still trying to pork ole fatheads, ole lady?? Remember he has that 45 waiting to catch one of you horny bastards."

Maynard, who has built his company into the dominant Internet service provider in North Texas in less than two years, is not one to take any slight lightly. Even minor customer complaints filed in dfw.internet.providers are apt to prompt a personal response.

"Everything Maynard posts is an ad," says Jeff LaCoursiere, who heads FastLane Communications, a small Fort Worth Internet provider that has been at odds with Maynard's company in the past about various things.

In March, some phone lines were accidentally switched, and FastLane customers were routed to Internet America. A technician at IA took advantage of the situation and posted a message to LaCoursiere's customers: "Why are you calling SlowLane? Sign up with Internet America."

Maynard, a Phoenix native who finished college in five semesters and did a stint as a sniper with the Army's elite Green Berets, must think some days that he's in a corporate Vietnam. His technical guys have been accused of "pinging" a competitor with blasts of information that bogged down their systems. And lately, someone has been leaking his internal e-mail memos, including one that outlined a 44-person layoff that began November 4, and another that revealed plans to expand to Houston.

(At one point while I was reporting this story, Maynard left a message on my voice-mail. "I'm trying to catch a spy," he said, explaining that he was planning to tell his employees that the Dallas Observer was somehow "on Massey's side." Maynard explained the next day that he was laying an electronic trap to see if the leaker in his company would bite. "A little counterintel," he said, conspiratorially.

Talking in his 30th-floor corner office in a '80s-vintage glass tower on St. Paul Street, Maynard says he wasn't aware his employees had been flaming--in essence commanding people, on Internet America's electronic stationery, to perform impossible sex acts on themselves. If his employees were, Maynard insists, they should have made it clear that their posts had nothing to do with the company.

 

"We're a new company; our policies are evolving," says Maynard, whose boyish, clean-shaven good looks and friendly air make him an easy person to trust. He has told the story more than once about the way he tutored one Dallas woman who called his company's number looking for the Internet. Her husband turned out to be Dallas millionaire William O. Hunt, who ended up investing $700,000 in the privately held company.

Employing its TV ads and billboards aimed at Mom, Dad, and the kids who just bought their first computer at Best Buy, Internet America has grown to 41,000 subscribers. It has literally blown by competitors who seem stuck in a time, two or three years ago, when the only people on line were geeks.

Life for this Information Age entrepreneur has been good. He casually drops the little status nugget: When he bought the Lexus, he paid cash.

Conducting the grand tour through rooms stuffed with glowing monitors and banks of blinking circuitry, Maynard displays an impressive knowledge of the Internet business. But, oddly, he has a habit of going off about things like how he and his wife, Teresa, were having trouble a while back, or how he impulsively asked her to marry him before they ever went on a date.

She eventually said yes, but not everybody has been as impressed with the Maynard charm.

On October 22, 1996, the Federal Trade Commission filed a civil complaint against Maynard and his previous business venture, the now-defunct National Credit Foundation Inc. of Phoenix. The FTC alleges that Maynard, who headed the company, misrepresented the company's ability to improve consumers' credit histories by erasing bankruptcies and other black marks from credit reports.

That complaint, which followed an Arizona attorney general's lawsuit making similar allegations, states that Maynard and another company officer misled consumers with an infomercial that purported to be a legitimate news program. It instructed consumers to call an 800 number, and those who did so were asked for their checking account numbers. Maynard, the FTC complaint alleges, solicited consumers' checking account numbers "for no other purpose than to debit consumers' accounts without obtaining authorization from consumers."

"Old news," Maynard replies in a written statement posted on his company's Web page. "I did not steal. When I saw problems--like the episode when a salesman began his script forcing a caller to read his checking account information without making a sale, then submitting it for sale--I took action to fix them...I took responsibility, lost everything, paid every penny back that I owed by earning it, and moved on."

A trial date for the FTC suit has not been set.
And, curiously, Maynard is the one in this feud who has been arrested before for alleged harassment.

In July 1995, Brad Arnold, a former Internet America employee, accused Maynard of threatening his life, a Richardson police report states. "I've killed 22 men with 22 shots. You're next," Maynard allegedly told Arnold by telephone. "I'm coming for you right now; keep your eyes open."

Police arrested Maynard on a misdemeanor harassment charge in September 1995, but that was as far as the case went. Arnold dropped the complaint last December, a few weeks after reaching an undisclosed out-of court settlement with Maynard in a breach-of-contract lawsuit brought in civil court, records show.

The first word Dallas police got that a cyberstalker was harassing the Maynard family was not a complaint from the Maynards.

It was a call from a Dallas Morning News reporter who already was at work on the story, recalls officer Tim Allen, who works in the computer crimes unit of Dallas police. Later the same day, Maynard faxed the police a stack of Mackdaddy's postings, but police could find nothing in them that appeared to be a terroristic threat.

"It looked like name-calling that escalated outside of that particular newsgroup," says Sergeant Gary White, Allen's superior. The officers had never seen a case like this before.

The police might have considered going forward with a charge of harassment, but Maynard did not ask to press formal charges, Allen says.

Instead, in a story that broke October 12 on the front page of The Dallas Morning News, Maynard declared he was taking this dangerous stranger to civil court. The impression any reader would have gotten is that Maynard was dealing with the sort of maniac who's usually after Cher or Madonna. Even Massey says he was surprised to learn it was himself.

Maynard had his on-line name, Mackdaddy; his return e-mail address; the name of his Internet service company; and--from some e-mail the two men had exchanged the week before the civil case was filed--the name Kevin Massey.

 

"He used other names in the past," Maynard says. "We didn't know it was him for sure."

Massey did make himself hard to find. He directs his old-fashioned mail to a former street address in Dallas.

Maynard made no mention of a flame war in the first day's blast of news reports, and insists the earlier flame postings between his employees and Massey were unknown to him at that time.

Massey had brought them to Maynard's attention, however, in some very politely worded e-mail the two men exchanged on October 10 and 11, just days before Maynard went public with his concerns about the so-called cyberstalker and filed his lawsuit.

Maynard and Paul Rafferty, a public relations man with Holland McAlister, say there are threatening comments from Massey in the e-mail that Massey and Maynard exchanged in private. Maynard declined to divulge those messages or specify what the threats were.

A series of e-mail messages released by Massey, however, shows nothing even close to harassment. In fact, he and Maynard were negotiating the precise language of his apology to Maynard and his wife that Maynard had asked for on October 10. There isn't even a hint of bad language in the exchanges, and that is some feat for Massey.

In a public post to the dfw.internet.providers newsgroup dated October 11, the day before the stalking story broke, Massey used his real name and genuine e-mail return address and apologized to Maynard and his wife. "I sincerely apologize to Ms. Maynard for putting her in this situation," he wrote. "I have gotten to know a little bit about Robert and I feel now that he is a reputable person, with terrific intentions. I will be eternally thankful to Robert for his patience and his honest effort to straighten this situation out."

In an e-mail message to Massey that followed, however, Maynard complained that that apology wasn't good enough. He took issue with the precise wording of the apology to his wife, and went on to complain about some fairly interesting things that Massey had not taken back.

"You did not retract your statements about Compu-tek's being 1,000 times more reliable" than Internet America, Maynard wrote. "You did not retract your statements about our company being a scam. You did not directly retract your statement about me being a liar and a con man."

By any reading, these hardly seem the thoughts of someone battling a mysterious stranger who put him in fear of his children's safety.

Still, as the story broke, Maynard told WFAA-TV Channel 8 that an unknown stalker threatened him with "obtuse" references to violence. "I'm frustrated that I have to hire private security; that I have to worry about whether my kids, playing across the street, if they're gonna be safe," Maynard said in the broadcast report. In a four-page press release, Maynard sanctimoniously declared he was taking action on behalf of everyone who wants to "make cyberspace safer."

The supposedly threatening language Massey used in his dfw.internet.providers posts was ambiguous, to say the least. Massey had the habit of concluding some of his missives with a signature line he copied out of a gun-nut newsgroup: "Lord grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. The courage to change the things I can. And the wisdom to hide the bodies of the people I had to kill because they pissed me off." It's a perversion of the Serenity Prayer, popular in 12-step programs, and appears to have been penned by a right-winger in Montana.

Maynard says he had other information that caused him to worry. "Massey's a bully with a long history of this kind of behavior on the Net," Maynard says.

Maynard had discovered that an amateur computer network known as the Fido-Net had kicked Massey off its system in April. Massey had used the handle "Kevin Parrish"--using his wife's previous last name. An Internet America employee who had posted some flame notes to Massey had connected the Mackdaddy and Parrish monikers with each other in mid-August.

With that lead, Maynard's investigators contacted John Summers, a 52-year-old communications consultant who had traded messages with Kevin Parrish on the Fido-Net beginning about a year and half ago.

Summers, talking to the Observer, says he was subjected to a "flurry of vulgar, junior-high-school insults" that Massey unleashed on the network.

"He threatened to kill and shoot me, and I took it as a distinct threat," Summers says. "I told him, 'Come on, I'm gonna be here on such and such a day. Go ahead.'"

 

Massey showed up at the appointed place--a pizza party for Fido-Net enthusiasts--and introduced himself, Summers recalls. "He backed down like a small child that shuts up once he's confronted."

Massey also remembers the meeting. "Oh. That old fuck," he recalls. "Yeah, we shook hands, sat down across from each other, and ate pizza. How does that make me dangerous?"

If Maynard were conducting the whole exercise as a public relations gimmick in which he would emerge as the guy who cleaned the streets of Dodge City, Massey might have appeared to be the perfect foil: the loudmouth bully who, when confronted, would back down. Maynard is "a great spin doctor," says one recently laid off Internet America employee. "I wouldn't put anything past him."

But Massey was madder this time.
In the e-mail exchange with Maynard, Massey brought up his own complaints about the way Internet America had treated him.

Around the time that insults were flying between Massey and some of Maynard's employees because of Massey's remarks about the CEO's wife, Massey says, somebody sent him several virus-laden files. The files would have destroyed his computer's programming had Massey downloaded them. Massey had seen the "spoofed"--meaning faked--return address, eatme@AIRMAIL.NET, ON THE FILES BEFORE. "AIRMAIL" IS THE ADDRESS FOR INTERNET AMERICA.

"IT IS NOT DIFFICULT TO DETERMINE THAT THOSE FILES CAME THROUGH THEIR SYSTEM," SAYS STUART GLASS, MASSEY'S ATTORNEY, REFERRING TO INTERNET AMERICA. "IT IS A LOT MORE DIFFICULT TO PROVE--AND WE ARE NOT SAYING--THAT THEY WERE SENT BY ONE OF THEIR PEOPLE."

WITHOUT ANYONE IN COURT TO CONTEST HIS MYTH OF A CYBERSTALKER, MAYNARD SECURED A BROADLY WORDED TEMPORARY RESTRAINING ORDER ON OCTOBER 14 FROM STATE DISTRICT JUDGE JOE B. BROWN. IT ALL BUT BANNED MASSEY FROM POSTING ANYTHING VULGAR OR THREATENING REGARDING THE MAYNARDS, AND FROM COMING WITHIN 500 YARDS OF THEIR HOME OR OFFICE.

THAT SAME DAY, MAYNARD POSTED THE ORDER ON THE NET.
THE LAST TIME THE WORD "CYBERSTALKER" WAS UTTERED SO MUCH IN THE NEWS IN DALLAS, MAYNARD WAS POSTING SOMETHING ELSE IN THE MEDIUM ON WHICH HE IS BUILDING HIS COMPANY. IT WAS THE ENTIRE 96 MINUTES OF A LOCALLY PRODUCED B-MOVIE THAT HAD BEEN SHOWN AT THE USA FILM FESTIVAL IN 1995. THE TITLEo Cyberstalker.

There is another party to all this, one that has played an important and completely unreported role. It's Compu-tek, the small Internet service provider that lets Massey hook up to the global system. The company was pulled into the fray when Maynard's lawyers subpoenaed its records in search of Massey's address, among other things, after Maynard filed his lawsuit. After going over Massey's transmissions with a Compu-tek lawyer, Compu-tek operations manager John Haynes had no reservations about his decision to allow Massey to remain on line. "If Kevin was saying, 'I'm gonna kill you, Robert Maynard,' we would have stepped in," Haynes says. "I can tell you that nothing like that was going on."

In line with Compu-tek's policies, Massey agreed not to post profane messages to dfw.internet.providers, and apologized for posting foul stuff there in the first place. Those sorts of policies--that specify where someone can flame with impunity, and where not--are upheld by Internet etiquette and informal agreements, not by courts and lawyers applying the intricacies of defamation law.

Paul Watler, a Dallas lawyer who recently conducted a seminar for journalists on law and the Internet, says he is surprised that a company like Internet America would be dragging these issues into civil court.

"These companies have typically supported the idea that the Internet is a free marketplace--an unregulated medium," Watler says. "To lead the courts in by the nose is like the Dallas Observer going out and suing a lot of people for libel."

Such philosophical notions of free speech and the Web have their place. But customer letters that Maynard posted on his Web site show that some people are more concerned about sweeping the foulmouthed jerks off the Web than worrying about who will work the broom. "Even though there is virtually unlimited space in the cyberworld," one Internet America customer wrote Maynard, "there is no room for 'cyberpunks.'"

Massey came forward to police and the media almost immediately after Maynard's lawsuit was filed.

At first, Massey reveled in introducing himself as "the cyberstalker" to journalists, receptionists, and even the repairman who showed up at Massey's house to fix the fridge. Then a film production company e-mailed him and told him the name was already trademarked. Massey changed his handle. Now he's "the stalker formerly known as the cyberstalker."

Armed with a black binder stuffed with printed copies of the nasty postings he traded with Internet America's staff, he began to complain that he was the injured party--victimized by Maynard, bad publicity, and mounting legal bills.

 

Once the lawyers started passing around his binder full of the flame notes written by Internet America employees, Maynard's restraining order fell into rapid retreat.

In a hearing on October 28, a judge pared it back. On November 6, Maynard dropped it altogether.

"Teri and I are much less concerned with our physical safety and that of our family now that the person we felt targeted by has been publicly revealed," Maynard said in a prepared statement.

An eight-hour mediation session that same day brought the sides close to settling matters, both sides acknowledge. Roughly speaking, Maynard would be granted a judgment from Massey that he couldn't collect, and Massey would get his $7,000 in lawyers' fees paid by Maynard.

But within just a few days, some weird cyberbanter started breaking out.
Incredibly, and against all the high-dollar legal advice both sides had been getting, Maynard and Massey began posting notes to each other on line. Call it a street fight in the middle of the information highway, mano a mano, mouse to mouse.

Massey, the ever-eager irritant, had been posting goading, pseudonymous notes all along--or at least that's what most on-line observers suspected.

The day after the mediation session, he wrote under the name Mackdaddy: "I am not a stalker or an asshole, just a guy who gives as much as he receives and backs down from no one."

The next day, Maynard fired back with a three-page missive posted to dfw.internet.providers. It attached to a thread named "Maynard: Scare Tactics=Coercion."

"Massey told us here that unless we paid him off, he was going to fire up his machine and really get started," Maynard wrote. "Needless to say, I declined to pay the demand...So perhaps this is what it was all about. He certainly didn't judge his mark very well."

It was very likely an Internet first: one party to a lawsuit who has spent more than $25,000 on legal fees telling the other party, on line, "No deal."

But Maynard didn't stop there. Warming to the subject, he went on to tell whomever was reading that he would be posting transcripts of Massey's deposition in the case. "They make for hilarious reading," he wrote. "One of many little gems is when Kevin actually states under oath that he uses the big pinky fingernail on his hand not to scoop cocaine, but to 'pick boogers.'"

This, mind you, is the CEO of the largest Internet company in Texas posting into a newsgroup that, a day earlier, he had described as an "on-line trade journal."

What came next was nothing short of flame.
"I've had his wife's record on my desk for four weeks, in fact," Maynard wrote. "I had hers before I had his." (Although Massey's wife was arrested in Dallas County in 1993 for alleged prostitution, she was not convicted.)

Soon, the battle was joined. Within hours, the Mackdaddy's response hit the Net: "It was YOU who agreed to pay me $10,000 to shut up and I told you NO way, you would have to have at least $20,000 to get my temporary silence," Massey wrote. "Tell the Whole truth for once Robert (I know it's hard.)...Your a lying sack...You are a coward, yellow belly, cry baby and con-man."

One could almost hear Mackdaddy's howl through all the fiber optics, the processors, the wires.

"Rudolph Valentino got in some flames that went on for a long time, but he never took one this far, never," Massey would say later that day, cackling in his distinct baritone. "This has to be the greatest flame war of all time."

Staff writer Thomas Korosec takes his mail at tkorosec@dallasobserver.com.


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