Author: DeAnna Knippling (Page 2 of 61)

Crime du Jour, Day 24: Pyramid Scheme

Crime du Jour: 31 Days of Malfeasance, Misconduct, and Immorality

One crime story per day, all the way through October. Ebook to be published Nov 1. This will be under my mystery/crime pen name, Diane R. Thompson!

 

Crime du Jour #24: Pyramid Scheme

SHARES IN DUTCH TULIPS

All a good pyramid scheme requires is shares in something, and a smooth talker to sell them. Or not so much a smooth talker as someone short-sighted enough to think the con will last forever.

“Here’s how it works,” I say. And I explain. You pick something that people can imagine they want, and can imagine buying low and selling high. The classic scams involve silver mines and stock shares. Futures are always good, like corn futures or pork futures. But I’ve heard of expeditions to dive for Spanish gold off the coast of Florida, or, one time, I kid you not, it was tulips. Shares in Dutch tulips. It has to be something risky but essentially legal. This all happens out in public. It’s so public that nobody can believe it’s a scam. That’s important. You want public opinion to sway your direction, to make it seem—among the core group of investors that make up your marks—like you’d have to be a fool not to get involved. There’s also something called a “Ponzi” scheme where each investor doesn’t have to actively recruit the next investor after them. But the lines get blurred, so let’s not quibble the difference. The government is supposed to protect investors against this kind of thing, but it always takes them longer than it should. What you want to do is throw as many delays in the way as you can, and run out the clock.

Once you have your material for shares, you get some word moving. Not a gale force wind of press releases and advertising, but a sly little breeze, the kind that blows right through a good mark. You have to think like a gossip. “Did you hear about so-and-so? I can’t believe it, but what I heard was—” Like that. And then you flash some cash while acting like you’re getting away with something. People will come sniffing around like bloodhounds.

When they do, you send them over to someone else. Never try to play all the roles in a pyramid scheme. Don’t short yourself on running the store. Don’t tell yourself you can get by without. The great schemes are time-tested. A mark should get completely screwed by one set of operators, yet still be hungry for more when the next con comes through. Don’t think of it as money lost in the split. Think of it as seeding the soil for future investments. When you get the right people backing you, you can more than offset the cost of splitting the profits with them, and shuffling around marks and investigators takes longer with five people than it does with two. See what I said above, about running out the clock.

So you send the mark to the second operator, who doesn’t want to sell. In fact they refuse to sell.

The first operator apologizes, and talks to the second operator. The second operator has to be convinced. Now, if you were running a simpler con, here’s where you get off the main track. The second operator can’t be persuaded to let the mark in on the big con. The first operator feels bad about it. “Sorry about that silver mine. How about I let you in on this smaller project instead…?” Many a good mark has been milked by such a bait and switch.

But for an actual pyramid scheme, you stay on track.

After some negotiation, the second operator reluctantly agrees to sell. Numbers get thrown around at this stage. The mark invests X, minus a cut off the top (percentage Y), as a transaction fee. The mark gets back returns Z as profit. The mark can either collect their Z profits and get their investment X back, or keep their investment X in the scheme and get their Z profits back, or take their investment X and roll their Z profits into their investment. Usually what happens is the mark invests X, collects profits Z, can’t believe their good luck, then comes back with profits Z to reinvest. A lot of them come back with more capital to add to X as well.  You pay your outgoing profits Z out of your incoming X investments. The exact math is tricky. You have to balance startup costs against giving the marks a deal that’s too good to be true.

Never let the mark negotiate the numbers. Use the same rates for everybody. That way, the marks will screw each other. Investor A will recruit investor B, and take a little cut under the table for the privilege. Just ignore it. It helps muddy the water, and it keeps investor A from going to the authorities. Investor A effectively becomes an operator for you, not a trusted one, but one who risks prison time if things fall apart.

Make it exclusive, too. Literally refuse to sell to people. Don’t always let yourself get “talked in” to letting someone join.  The more exclusive you are, the longer you can take to run out that clock.

But, eventually, that clock will run out. It might take thirty years, but it will run out. The danger of this business is that a successful operator always half-believes what they tell the marks. But your scheme will have always been a con, and it was never going to work out the way you told the marks it would.  Even the most perfect system collapses.  There’s just too much chaos in the world, and you can’t control it.

But you can control who you pick as your smooth talker.  My advice here is to pick one of the world’s non-violent psychopaths.  If you know where to look, you can find a lot of them. No soul, no morals, no emotions other than a craving for “winning” at something, no awareness that they were always going to have taken the fall.  They’re the asshole in the limelight.

You’re just the accountant.

THE END

 

Geeky gothics and other strange & wonderful fiction: sign up for the Wonderland Press newsletter here. Includes two tales of Doctor Rudolpho, a teenaged fortune-teller who has the Sight.  If you enjoyed today’s story, please consider signing up!

You can find 2018’s story-a-day project, Tales of the Normal, here, and 2017’s story-a-day project, October Nights, here.

 

Crime du Jour, Day 23: Prostitution

Crime du Jour: 31 Days of Malfeasance, Misconduct, and Immorality

One crime story per day, all the way through October. Ebook to be published Nov 1. This will be under my mystery/crime pen name, Diane R. Thompson!

 

Crime du Jour #23: Prostitution

TWO SISTERS ALONG BASIN STREET, STORYVILLE, NEW ORLEANS

 

Sadie Broussard was one of the girls working Mahogany Hall, a famous house in New Orleans run by Lulu White. This was the days of Storyville, the red-light district down by the Vieux Carré. Sadie had a long face like a grayhound’s, fine dark hair, and arresting eyes, the old French sort of face which is, by turns, cruel and beautiful. When she was in a high mood, she wore a thin black ribbon wrapped around her neck and tied behind, so the ends lay down the track of her spine. Lulu always told Sadie she would be found dead in a canal some day: Sadie was the kind of girl who was made for trouble.

One day a nun walking along Basin Street, likely on her way to the St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, saw Sadie at the third-floor balcony. Sadie was wearing a lace slip with one shoulder down, decently covered, and waving at the traffic along the street. The nun was wearing a habit like a racehorse’s blinkers and her mouth was soft and bowed, like a spoiled girl’s. When the nun turned her eyes up to Sadie’s, she shuddered and clutched at a crucifix lying upon a thin black ribbon upon her chest, giving a little gasp that echoed along the street.

The woman took something from within her dark clothing, and cast it at the bottom of Lulu’s long marble stairs. Then she slipped off with mincing steps and was soon out of sight.

Sadie slunk downstairs, throwing a wrap over her slip and putting on a pair of leather gentleman’s boots at the door, large enough that she could slip her feet in without tying them.

It was early, before noon, and she lifted her chin high as she descended. At the bottom of the stairs she found a tooled wallet the size of a cigarette case. Sadie fled to her room, which had a flowered rug on the floor, dark flowered wallpaper, and flowers carved in her dresser, mirror-frame, and Empire-style bed: and a tiny, dim window with colored flowers in the upper panes, too pretty to break and too small to climb through.

By the dim light of the bubbled glass, Sadie looked inside the wallet. It held an old photograph of two women in prim Victorian dresses and veiled hats. One woman’s veil was pulled back. She wore a thick ribbon around her neck, which was bruised. She faced directly toward the camera, and was perfectly clear. The other, turned toward the first woman and holding her stiff hand, was slightly blurred. In old photographs, only the dead are perfectly clear.

The dead woman had Sadie’s face, the live woman had the nun’s.

Sadie left her wrap draped over the end of the bed and went back to the third-floor parlor. The light was better there. Another girl, Chloe Sonnier, was sunning herself and drinking café au lait at the little wrought-iron table.

“What have you got there?” Chloe asked.

Sadie showed it to her, without comment.

Chloe gave a little scream and dropped the wallet on the table, crossing herself. “Where did you get that unholy thing?”

Sadie laughed and related the morning’s little tale.

“Whatever does it mean?”

Sadie shrugged. “That my double had her throat cut, and the other girl became a nun because of it, what else?”

Chloe crossed herself again, and went back into the house, leaving her café au lait behind.

Sadie leaned back against the wall of the house, holding the café in one hand and the memento mori in the other. Now she would hold it at arm’s length. Now she would bring it close to her face, giving the photograph a squint.

Her double, she decided, had also been the kind of girl who was made for trouble, and had been killed over a man. There had been a jealous spat, a straight razor, and—why not?—a luscious opera singer that both of them wanted. The other woman in the photograph was the good sister, the one who had been left behind. She had loved the wicked sister. The good were often not so good, but only afraid to be wicked. But Sadie had a feeling that the good sister in the photograph was truly good, the soft and wonderful kind of goodness that would bring the wicked sister back to her, time and again, for comfort, and to see the plain joy upon her face.

After the death of wicked sister, the good sister had gone to Louisiana to be married to a man of property, and had two daughters—one who looked like her, and one who looked like her dead sister, the wicked one.

One day, the wicked sister had run away, never to be seen again, very young. Or had she been kidnapped? The good sister had pined. Their parents had had other children—but the two sisters had never truly been separated. They were joined, as if by a long, black ribbon, which stretched from the Catholic orphanage that had raised Sadie, to the good sister’s girlhood in Broussard, the only word young Sadie could speak beside her own name, when she had been found.

With one look, that connection had been drawn taught as a piano wire, and tomorrow her sister would see Sadie, for one last time.

They would have their photograph taken together. By then, Sadie would be dead, her image perfectly clear, propped up in Lulu’s front parlor, next to her sister—who would swear to discover who had killed her, and take her revenge.

Later, the good sister would discover the name of the police officer who had arrested Sadie, then killed her. He would disappear, only to be found later, floating face-down in a canal. No one would suspect the nun. Sadie would be dead—but loved.

Everyone made up whatever stories they liked, in Storyville.

THE END

 

Geeky gothics and other strange & wonderful fiction: sign up for the Wonderland Press newsletter here. Includes two tales of Doctor Rudolpho, a teenaged fortune-teller who has the Sight.  If you enjoyed today’s story, please consider signing up!

You can find 2018’s story-a-day project, Tales of the Normal, here, and 2017’s story-a-day project, October Nights, here.

Crime du Jour, Day 22: Probation Violation

Crime du Jour: 31 Days of Malfeasance, Misconduct, and Immorality

One crime story per day, all the way through October. Ebook to be published Nov 1. This will be under my mystery/crime pen name, Diane R. Thompson!

 

Crime du Jour #22: Probation Violation

PETROSINELLA (A FAIRY TALE)

Petrosinella had been born to a poor family over in the old country.  Her mother had traded her for some fresh parsley to an ogress, which wasn’t as bad a deal as it sounded, since it meant that the child would be born alive, and live long enough to get given up, which was longer than some children got.  The ogress often gave her family good food, even in the dead of winter.  Ogresses eat better than anyone.  No matter what you hear, it isn’t because they eat babies.  Why would they do that?  All they have to do is whistle, and rabbits jump into their snares, and fish into their nets.

The mother tried to hold off giving up her pretty little Petrosinella for as long as possible. The ogress was not the sort to take a child, even one she was owed, without permission.  She would stop little Petrosinella along the road and say, “Tell your mother to remember her promise,” which message Petrosinella would faithfully repeat. She wasn’t the least bit afraid of the ogress, and thought of her as a sort of holy sister, for the ogress would wear a nun’s habit to keep the eyes of cruel men off her, when she was out.

The mother always pretended she did not hear Petrosinella’s reminders, until one day she cried, “If you think that ogress is so gentle and so sweet,” for the ogress always gave the little girl bread, or sweets, or flowers, “you tell her she can take what is owed!”

The next day, Petrosinella told the ogress exactly that, and was swept up into the ogress’s arms and taken off to a tower far away from her village, where she was taught to read and to cipher and to say her prayers, which, I am ashamed to say, her mother and father had not taught her.  That is not to say that Petrosinella was imprisoned in the tower.  She spent most of her days in the forest with the ogress, learning to whistle up rabbits and fish, to name all the plants and their uses, and to make all sorts of elixirs and medicines.

Then, one night, a prince found Petrosinella’s tower.  Princes are like fleas, they get everywhere and bite you until you scratch.  He climbed the tower, found Petrosinella there, and had his way with her, leaving her behind to face the music.  He never offered to take her with him. She was only the daughter of a poor family and he could not have married her, even if he had wanted to.

The next day, the ogress asked Petrosinella what the matter was, and Petrosinella, in all innocence, told her, not knowing that the ogress had promised Petrosinella to an order of friendly sisters nearby, in honor of her friendship with the old Abbess. So you see that everyone has debts to pay, even an ogress.

The ogress tore at her hair, and cried that she had never seen such a fool of a girl.  The girl answered that she hadn’t meant to disappoint her foster mother, and hadn’t wanted the prince’s attentions anyway.  But it was no use: what was done was done, and soon Petrosinella began to swell about the belly.

The ogress wailed that she would never be able to pay her debts now, and that Petrosinella would have only the worst sort of life ahead of her, the life her own mother had given her to an ogress to avoid.

Petrosinella said that she would go, but the ogress forbade it.  She was not cruel or unkind, and had great fondness for Petrosinella, whom she considered her daughter.  The ogress made Petrosinella agree to stay at the tower as punishment for betraying her trust, then went to her bed, to weep such tears that the tower was soon surrounded by tall mounds of rue.

Long waited Petrosinella in the tower.  When the babe quickened, the face of the ogress darkened even further, and Petrosinella vowed to leave the tower and find the prince, so the ogress would be longer troubled by her disobedient foster-daughter no more.

And off she went, to look for the prince.

She was not blind, as some of the stories say, except in the way that young women are always blind to princes, and when she whistled, the rabbits leapt into her snares, so she wasn’t hungry, either.

The ogress followed after her, as soon as she discovered her foster-daughter was missing. She looked everywhere, only to find trouble at every turn.  Finally a villager came to her, and, thinking her a nun, begged her to help ease the birthing pains of a woman, although a sinner—at least come, begged the villager, and pray.

It was Petrosinella, and she was very close to death, for she had conceived of twins.

The ogress saved both her and her twin sons, and said, “And all this, after I forbid you to go.”

Petrosinella asked what her punishment was to be, saying she had never wished to have the ogress for a mother, and had not wished to be trapped in the tower forever, and did not wish to be punished for her mother’s cravings, or to be given to nuns: and so you can see that even a woman raised by the kindest of ogresses can sometimes lose her temper.

The ogress declared that Petrosinella was so free that she would have to invent her own punishments, and went home.

One day, a long time later, Petrosinella returned to the tower. It was after her sons were grown.  All was badly worn and broken, the garden untended.  The ogress came to the window and squinted at her, for her eyes were bad and her limbs were weak. In fact she could hardly whistle the rabbits into her snares anymore.

“I have come to face my punishment,” said Petrosinella, and gathered up some parsley, which had gone wild, to start on some soup.

THE END

Note: this story is based on the early Italian version of the tale more familiarly known as “Rapunzel.” Actual probation violations proved to be almost as depressing as second-degree murder charges, and I just couldn’t do it. So that’s why it’s a fairy tale today.

 

Geeky gothics and other strange & wonderful fiction: sign up for the Wonderland Press newsletter here. Includes two tales of Doctor Rudolpho, a teenaged fortune-teller who has the Sight.  If you enjoyed today’s story, please consider signing up!

You can find 2018’s story-a-day project, Tales of the Normal, here, and 2017’s story-a-day project, October Nights, here.

 

Crime du Jour, Day 21: Open Container

Crime du Jour: 31 Days of Malfeasance, Misconduct, and Immorality

One crime story per day, all the way through October. Ebook to be published Nov 1. This will be under my mystery/crime pen name, Diane R. Thompson!

 

Crime du Jour #21: Open Container

BEST MAN

 

So about two years ago, my cousin Joe Griggs here and I had been drinking, first at a strip-mall bar in Saginaw, then out in the parking lot, then walking along the highway, which maybe wasn’t that great an idea, but eventually we caught a break in the traffic and crossed to the other side of the road, then the other side of the railroad tracks, two-three sets of them, then over into this kind of open lot with a bunch of scrub trees in it. It’s behind the steel fabricator place and animal services, so you got your rusty smell and your smell of dogs, and the sound of barking and the highway.

It was a clear night, hot and warm, you could hear the insects singing, a train rolling out along one or another of the tracks, a party off in the distance with music playing tinny and faint off someone’s phone.

Well, Joe and I, we got to arguing about his ex-girlfriend and whether he should get back together with her, and we got in a fight, then kind where you’re half-wrestling and half-trying to punch each other. He hit me real hard and I passed out. Actually, he might not have hit me that hard, but I passed out anyway.  We were that kind of drunk.

When I woke up, it was morning, but only just.

I wasn’t sure what had happened, so I looked around. Right in front of my feet was my cousin Joe’s body, right next to an empty bottle of Jim Beam, which I was sure had been full when I blacked out.  Joe’s face looked pale and dead-looking.  I touched him, and he was colder than anybody had any right to be. No joke, he felt like a wax dummy.

I yelled and shook him. He flopped around like a bag of pinto beans.

I decided he was dead.  D-E-A-D dead.

So I did what any hungover white boy in Texas would have done.  I dragged Joe’s dead body over to the railroad tracks.  I wasn’t sure whether I had killed Joe or he had just drunk himself to death, but I didn’t much feel like taking the blame for it.

The train was coming, close enough to feel the track vibrate and hear the thrumming sound of all the wheels rolling on the rails.  I had to get out of the area, but I didn’t dare go back to my pickup truck.  My story was going to be that Joe and I had fought, and I’d abandoned him out in the open lot and walked home without him.  Whatever had happened to him after that, well, not my fault.

I was about halfway to the opposite end of the open lot when I remembered that I’d left that bottle of Jim Bean behind, and turned around to get it.  I didn’t know whose fingerprints were on it.

As I turned, someone ran across the highway to the place where I’d left Joe on the tracks. A woman, maybe five feet tall in four-inch stilettos, and built like a feather boa.  She screamed and tried to pull Joe off the tracks—the wrong way, that was.  All she woulda had to do was push him sideways off the tracks, and he would have rolled off the track bed and to safety.  But no, she had to try to drag him across the tracks, which meant she’d have to try to drag him over two sets of tracks, because right there, they ran side by side, and it wasn’t clear which tracks the train was on yet.

“Help me!” she screamed, then waved her arms.

I swore under my breath.  She’d seen me.

I ran toward her, grabbing the bottle of Jim Bean off the ground as I ran.  The train was on its way now, you could see it off in the distance as it came around the bend.  I made it to the tracks, dropped the bottle, and grabbed Joe’s body to start pulling him off the tracks and toward the open lot.

This little lady grabbed him and started pulling him back the other way. Between the two of us, we had him half-sitting up.

She was strong.  I don’t know how a lady so tiny got so strong.

“Let go!” I shouted.

“Help me!” she shouted back.

We both kept pulling in opposite directions.

The train came closer, the brakes on it screaming. It was on our set of tracks, all right, headed straight for all three of us.

That’s when Joe’s head rolled back on his shoulders and he started screaming, “I don’t wanna go toward the liiiiight!”

He jerked his arms away from both of us and covered his face with his hands.

Still sitting there, right on the tracks.

The woman yelled, “I’ll save you!” and tried to grab him under the arms and drag him backward along the tracks.  Even with the train trying to stop, she wasn’t going to be able to drag him backward fast enough to do either of them any good.

So I grabbed her and dragged her off the tracks, toward the open lot.  And she—don’t ask me how—kept hold of Joe and dragged him off the tracks.

As we dragged Joe away from the oncoming train, he saw the bottle of Jim Beam and grabbed it, cradling it to his chest like a puppy.

The engine went by, brakes still screaming. We had made it.

After a while, the train came to a stop, and we all heard this weird humming sound.

“What’s that?” the lady asked.

We all looked.

It was a drone floating above our heads and off to the side, a camera right in front.

Filming the whole thing.

Which is why we’re Internet-famous now, how Joe and I got busted for open container, and the hundred-percent truth of how Joe and Meredith met.

THE END

 

Geeky gothics and other strange & wonderful fiction: sign up for the Wonderland Press newsletter here. Includes two tales of Doctor Rudolpho, a teenaged fortune-teller who has the Sight.  If you enjoyed today’s story, please consider signing up!

You can find 2018’s story-a-day project, Tales of the Normal, here, and 2017’s story-a-day project, October Nights, here.

 

Crime du Jour, Day 20: Murder, Second-Degree

Crime du Jour: 31 Days of Malfeasance, Misconduct, and Immorality

One crime story per day, all the way through October. Ebook to be published Nov 1. This will be under my mystery/crime pen name, Diane R. Thompson!

 

Crime du Jour #20: Murder, Second-Degree

CRIME DU JOUR

Second-degree murder is an ugly, boring crime. In theory it’s supposed to be a “crime of passion,” when you kill someone in the heat of the moment, or you kill someone you only intended to injure, or you kill someone while you’re committing another crime.  In practice, it’s a crime for stupid people.

Lemme give you some examples.

One guy kills a priest in Marlborough who was hearing his confession, not in a confession booth like in the movies, but in the priest’s office, face to face, over a cup of coffee.  The guy was abused as a kid, and it slips out.  Suddenly the guy is like, “You weren’t supposed to ask about that.” They tussle, the priest gets shot, second-degree murder.

A contractor in Arnold drives over a homeless man in an alleyway near his apartment. Hits the guy, runs over him, then reverses his pickup truck and backs over him again.  He was high and hadn’t meant to do it, second-degree murder.

This guy in Fairview Heights is molesting little kids. One of the moms finds out.  She recruits her brother to help deal with this bastard, then hires the guy to help put together some bunk beds for her even younger twin daughters. They tussle, she accidentally shoots her brother, then the guy. She has a good lawyer. Instead of first-degree murder and manslaughter, the charge about her brother is dismissed and the one about the alleged molester is downgraded—you guessed it—to second-degree murder.

A chorus of domestic disturbance rings out over the St. Louis metropolitan area, as regular as church bells. Second-degree murder.

Two guys stuck in a traffic jam on I-70 on a Friday at 4 p.m., one guy gets out and shoots the other, second-degree murder.

Two guys walk out of a bar just off Vandeventer Avenue, they get in a fight, one of them knocks the other out, the first guy drags the second guy’s unconscious body into a park, the second guy hits his head on a rock and dies, second-degree murder.

Robbery in an old man’s home in Fairview Heights, the robber ties up a 79-year-old man and leaves him there after ransacking the house. The man has diabetes and no family and can’t get to his insulin, second-degree murder.

Three teenaged boys in Ferguson steal some unsecured guns off a second-amendment neighbor, all trigger and no discipline, then break into the house of neighbors who happen to be black. They wear ski masks, one of the guns goes off accidentally, everyone’s in the news, second-degree murder.

A woman’s driving a car in Hi-Pointe. The car is moving. One guy is in the seat beside her, the other is in the seat behind her. A gun goes off—twice. The car swerves and hits a tree. Video from a store across the street shows three people in the car: the dead woman in the driver’s seat, a guy in the front seat, another guy in back. The woman was shot in the back of the head twice. Both of the guys have previous convictions for drug felonies. The guy in the back seat says he got out of the car and went home before the shooting occurred and he wouldn’t have shot her while the car was moving anyway, second-degree murder.

Are you bored yet? Rolling your eyes? Trying to talk to the people on the other side of the story and tell them it wasn’t worth it? I do.

I work for the local daily paper.  You wouldn’t recognize my byline. I started out delivering papers at four a.m. off my bicycle and worked my way up to reporter.  Not one of the top reporters, but a reliable hack with a sympathetic face who works the courts a lot.  The cops recognize me.  I’ve stepped down more than a few situations.  “Oh, it’s her,” they’ll say, and the situation will de-escalate. Apparently my writeups are sarcastic.

But here it is: I started noticing, when I was doing follow-up interviews with the survivors after sentencing, that there would be a snow globe sitting around somewhere.  Small, cheap-looking, white plastic in a glass dome with a white plastic base.  I didn’t think about it until I saw the fifth or sixth one.  Now I see them everywhere.

When I first realized it, I broke off in the middle of the interview.  I said, “What’s that?”

The widow handed the globe over to me.  Her husband had been killed behind a gay bar off 7th Boulevard. She’d known what her husband was like, but she loved him too much to stop him that night, he’d been shot after making out with the wrong closeted gay man, second-degree murder.

“Charles’s snow globe,” she said, like I should have known already. She handed it to me.

Behind the swirling white glitter was a 3D-printed miniature in white plastic. One man standing, the other kneeling, the first man holding a gun to the second man’s head. A little metal plate at the bottom said Charles Garmer, Jan 7 1982 to May 13 2018, Crime du Jour.

“Where’d you get it?” I asked.

“It came in the mail.” She tilted her head. “Didn’t you know? Every day someone gets one of these.”

She showed me the St. Louis survivors’ forum she frequented. One of the top topics was just that: Crime du Jour.  Every day, some anonymous artist selected a second-degree murder case and made a miniature snow globe for it on a 3D printer, then sent it to one of the survivors.

“That’s…” I said, not knowing how to describe it.

The widow shrugged. “We like them. It’s nice knowing someone is paying attention.” She skipped a beat, then added, “Besides you, of course.”

“Of course,” I said, and wrapped things up.

Twenty years of summing up second-degree murder cases, and it was someone else who had found the perfect description for that dull and relentless horror, the horror of human stupidity.

Crime du jour.

THE END

 

Geeky gothics and other strange & wonderful fiction: sign up for the Wonderland Press newsletter here. Includes two tales of Doctor Rudolpho, a teenaged fortune-teller who has the Sight.  If you enjoyed today’s story, please consider signing up!

You can find 2018’s story-a-day project, Tales of the Normal, here, and 2017’s story-a-day project, October Nights, here.

Crime du Jour, Day 19: Money Laundering

Crime du Jour: 31 Days of Malfeasance, Misconduct, and Immorality

One crime story per day, all the way through October. Ebook to be published Nov 1. This will be under my mystery/crime pen name, Diane R. Thompson!

 

Crime du Jour #19: Money Laundering

NIMMERFROH

It all started when my latest serial-killer novel was pirated.  I’d only sent out a couple dozen copies of the novel to beta readers, so it wasn’t that hard to track down the guilty party.  Beta readers are people who read an early version of a story and give the author feedback. It’s an informal position, but one of trust. I set my computer guru, Bob, on the job. Bob is a nice guy, pretty ethical, but he owes me big-time.

The suspects were quickly narrowed down to two friends of mine who lived on the other side of the country, but not with each other. (I live in Colorado, up in the mountains.) I immediately leaned toward one of them as the guilty party.

I should explain why I was upset about having my book pirated.  To a reader, it’s no big deal to pirate a Liz Hicks book, or even thousands of Liz Hicks books.  I, myself, have pirated a few books. If I can’t legally buy a copy of a book, I have no scruples about getting one however I can.  The usual problem that authors bring up is that they don’t make money off pirated books. And I have to admit that the idea of all the money that isn’t mine gets my goat sometimes.

But what really pisses me of is that I don’t make rankings off pirated books.  Nobody gets on a USA Today bestseller list based on pirated versions. And Amazon, for example, bases how often my books get shown to readers on how often my books get sold or reviewed.  And book pirates don’t even leave stinking reviews.

The woman I suspected of being the book pirate, let’s call her Jenna, was going to be at a convention in St. Petersburg, Florida, a few weeks after I found out about the pirating.  I looked up the email she had sent after she had read the novel, called Nimmerfroh, about a female serial killer working with the German Resistance during World War II.  Jenna had loved the book, but suggested a few changes. I’d used most of her suggestions.  She’s also a professional writer, and a good one.  She writes thrillers about a female IT specialist who tracks down abducted women.  She’s a computer guru herself, although these days she’s a bit behind on the field, being successful enough as a writer that she quit her IT job.

Aha, I hear you thinking. No wonder she’s the one you suspected.

Let me add that the other suspect was an old college professor of mine, a complete idiot about clicking on any and every email or message that anyone ever sent him, the kind of person constantly posting on Facebook, “Ignore any messages you got from me yesterday.  I’ve been hacked!”

He might have been an inadvertent “leak,” but I didn’t think so. The version of the book that had been pirated had the fixes that Jenna had suggested in it already—worded slightly differently than I would have done it.

A pretty solid clue, in my opinion.

I kept my mouth shut until the Florida convention.  I had intended to take Jenna to lunch as a “thank you” for being a beta-reader, then confront her about the book pirating, but she beat me to it. That is, she offered to take me out to lunch.

We went to an upscale restaurant. She ordered the vegan fettuccine with mushroom Bolognese.  I ordered steak, organic New York strip with togarishi-lime butter, and a double-shot of the most expensive Scotch on the list.  If they had had lobster on the menu, I would have ordered it.

She didn’t blink an eye.

“So,” she said. “You found out about the piracy.”

“Yes,” I said.

“I knew you would.”

“And?”

And, she said, she had a proposition for me.

A certain firm in Indonesia needed to launder some money.  They owned literal laundries all over East Java. Many of the legitimate customers paid in cash.  The way the money got laundered was, the laundry owners would set up fake accounts to bring in suits to be dry-cleaned.  They would charge the accounts for the suits, but—surprise!—no suits were ever cleaned. It’s a simple setup. I’ve heard of it done with housecleaning, restaurants, even house sitters.

Here was where things got more involved.  The firm in Indonesia also wanted a way to introduce computer viruses onto people’s smartphones.  Jenna had a more technical term for it, but that’s what it boiled down to, a computer virus.

Why not, Jenna said with twinkling eyes, target book pirates?

I would “leak” my beta-reader book version to the book pirates. They would introduce this virus thingy onto the pirated book file.  The book pirates would steal the book.  Then bad things would happen to the book pirates.

Instant karma.

“But what do I get out of it?” I asked.

“Isn’t revenge enough?” she asked.

“No,” I said, and she laughed.

“The women who work at the laundry all have Amazon accounts,” Jenna said.  “They buy your book.  Or read it on Kindle Unlimited, if the book is in that program. They’ll even do reviews.”

“In Indonesian?” I asked, thinking, I’m pretty sure most of them don’t speak English.

“All sorts of languages. There’s a network that goes through Russia and all over China, a lot of different places. A lot of the reviews are in English. And, honestly, I’ve made a lot of new fans that way.”

I sat back in my seat.

“And you sent my book out without asking me because…?” I said.

“Never mind that now,” she said. “It’s too late to put the feline back in the Kate Spade clutch. In or out?”

I thought about backlist. I thought about karma.  I thought about getting caught.

But it was breaking into the Russian and Chinese markets that decided me.

Getting reviews.

“In,” I said.

And then I finished my steak.

THE END

This story features the main character (Liz Hicks) from my forthcoming Diane R. Thompson novel, A Dark and Cozy Night.  

 

Geeky gothics and other strange & wonderful fiction: sign up for the Wonderland Press newsletter here. Includes two tales of Doctor Rudolpho, a teenaged fortune-teller who has the Sight.  If you enjoyed today’s story, please consider signing up!

You can find 2018’s story-a-day project, Tales of the Normal, here, and 2017’s story-a-day project, October Nights, here.

 

Crime du Jour, Day 18: Manslaughter (Involuntary)

Crime du Jour: 31 Days of Malfeasance, Misconduct, and Immorality

One crime story per day, all the way through October. Ebook to be published Nov 1. This will be under my mystery/crime pen name, Diane R. Thompson!

 

Crime du Jour #18: Manslaughter (Involuntary)

AT THE CARNIVAL, NIGHTTIME IS THE SAME, BUT DIFFERENT

It’s one of those traveling carnivals that sets up in open fields or parking lots of dead shopping malls.  It doesn’t have a big top or sideshows.  It isn’t a traveling circus.  It has a single Ferris wheel with twelve topless double seats that creak as they swing.  There’s a merry-go-round with plastic horses on it.  Some of the paint is chipped all the way down to the gray plastic, but the fabric top is still immaculate red and white.  The music comes from a DVD player.  The whole carnival smells of diesel fuel and burnt sugar.  A million cords have been gaffed down to the cracked asphalt of the parking lot. You can get cotton candy, carmel apples, sno kones, popcorn, corn dogs, hot dogs, hamburgers, soft pretzels, and all kinds of big cold drinks.  It’s hot enough, and dry enough, that sweat tacks down the hair on your arms, straight onto your skin.

If you’re lucky, you win an orange stuffed orangutan. A sports jersey. Or a rubber duck.

That’s daytime.

At the carnival, nighttime is the same, but different.

The lights come on.

Some of the lights are regular lights.  There are regular socket bulbs, neon lights, fluorescent lights hanging inside the ticket booths, washing the color out of the ticket-takers’ faces.  Then there are the LED lights.  They sell hand-held mini fans with LEDs all around the outside edges of the fan blades.  The lights show patterns as they spin. More LEDs race each other around the outside of the tent awnings.  They dance between the hanging stuffed animals.  Frogs with their arms outstretched, zebras, pink bears with smaller stuffed animals, monsters mostly, behind a plastic window in their bellies.  All those eyes watching you, once the lights come on.  Some of the eyes have lights inside them.  At night the air turns cold, colder than it really is, so you end up wrapping your arms around your shoulders and shivering.  People are everywhere and nowhere all at once.  One second you’re surrounded. The next, suddenly you’re by yourself, everyone looking at you.

I have two tickets and no money.  The cheapest ride is three tickets, except for the kiddie rides, and I’m too tall for those.  Three tickets for the fun house.  I need four tickets for the Sizzler, or the Pharaoh’s Fury, or the Gravitron. I walk around the edge of the carnival, looking for someone who wants to get rid of their leftover tickets.  I’m shivering.  I’m wearing shorts and a yellow ramen-noodle t-shirt. I told my mom I wasn’t going to bring a sweatshirt. My friends already went home. I have to leave soon too, on my bike. Maybe I’ll find some other kid to give my leftover tickets to.

Then this guy pushes past me, wearing running shoes, no socks, black shorts, and a long-sleeved black t-shirt that sticks to his front.  He has a hemp necklace with cowrie shells on it and a goatee. He looks at me. He looks at me on purpose.

I hear something rattle on the asphalt. Then the guy jumps over the aluminum fence at the edge of the carnival and is gone.

On the asphalt is a curling coil of tickets.  I pick them up.

They’re sticky and dark.

I find a mostly-clean paper napkin and wipe them off.

A dozen tickets! With my two other tickets, that’s fourteen. That’s three four-ticket rides, with two left over.  Or two fives and a four, with nothing left over.

I walk to the Sizzler.  It pulls at me, swooping and turning.  It isn’t the most dangerous ride.  It isn’t the tallest ride.  But I like it.  It has three arms with four carriages on each arm.  It turns like crazy, throwing you back and forth and switching directions. Then, just when you start to get used to it, it starts throwing you up and down.  No seat belt, just a grab bar that fits in front of you. I get in line.

A big guy is taking tickets, the kind of guy who can throw a kid a hundred feet into the air all by himself.  I hand him my two clean tickets and two of the least yucky ones.  He starts to take them, then looks down at the tickets.  “What the hell did you spill all over these, kid?  I can’t be taking these.”

He shoves them back at me and pushes me out of line.  I howl in protest.

“They’re fake! Nice try, kid.  Next!”

He’s lying.  Those tickets are real.  He just doesn’t want to gunk up his ticket pouch.

Two guys behind me hand over their tickets.  They climb into a seat and pull the bar in front of them and put the pin in, even before the ticket taker comes.  For a second the music on the merry-go-round goes silent, and I hear one of them say, “But I know I got him.”

“He’s still moving,” says the other, banging his hand on the arm of the safety bar.

“We’ll find him. Time to start searching—” says the first one, and then the music comes on again.

A few seconds later, the Sizzler starts up.  The two guys are still talking.  Their heads lean one way, then the other.  They’re wearing matching dark-blue polo shirts and khaki pants.

I see something dull and silver lying on the ground where they climbed in.  The ticket taker sees the silver thing too, then does a double-take.

His hand moves for the lever, but it’s too late.

One of the polo shirt guys screams.  Then—

Nobody ever finds out how the guy on the inside end of the seat gets thrown, but not the one on the outside. It’s a freak accident. The big guy is arrested for involuntary manslaughter, but they let him go again.

I keep my mouth shut when they ask me.

Even though I never get to use the rest of those tickets.

THE END

 

Geeky gothics and other strange & wonderful fiction: sign up for the Wonderland Press newsletter here. Includes two tales of Doctor Rudolpho, a teenaged fortune-teller who has the Sight.  If you enjoyed today’s story, please consider signing up!

You can find 2018’s story-a-day project, Tales of the Normal, here, and 2017’s story-a-day project, October Nights, here.

Crime du Jour, Day 17: Indecent Exposure

Crime du Jour: 31 Days of Malfeasance, Misconduct, and Immorality

One crime story per day, all the way through October. Ebook to be published Nov 1. This will be under my mystery/crime pen name, Diane R. Thompson!

 

Crime du Jour #17: Indecent Exposure

FLORIDA MAN EXPOSES HIMSELF TO NUNS

October 11, 2019 — PENSACOLA, Fla. — A Florida man found nude inside an after-hours ShopMart Halloween display is facing charges after being reported for indecent exposure by local nuns.

The Sun-Journal reports 34-year-old shopper Elwood “Eddie” Rigsby was arrested in the early hours of last Friday after closing hours of the local ShopMart after being discovered within the store’s seasonal Halloween display at approximately one a.m. by a search party constituting of over forty searchers, including several police officers, three shift supervisors, and the store manager, Hazel Knoblock.

Earlier the previous day, an emergency call was received by the Pensacola Police Department about a topless man who had exposed himself to several nuns who had been perusing the seasonal section.  The nuns, members of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Lidwina (CSL) were preparing to celebrate a Jubilee, or twenty-fifth anniversary of observing the religious life, for one of their members. The sister making the call reported that they had found the man hiding within the racks of adult costumes in the store.

The suspect was reported to have behaved in a “lewd and indecent manner,” and shouted at the nuns to “suck on it like a lollypop,” after which he was reported to have snatched a costume with a men’s short bolero jacket and sombrero and disappeared within the men’s clothing aisles.

But that was only the beginning.

Several officers arrived shortly afterward to search for the suspect, who eluded detection for several hours.  After closing, a more thorough search was performed; however, the suspect was not located for several hours, until a large display of boxes of Halloween candy and decorative streamers, shaped like an enormous jack-o-lantern, was disassembled.  The suspect was found to have created himself a narrow, cramped hiding spot within the boxes using a box-cutter, several rolls of adhesive tape, and a fleece throw quilt, decorated with Halloween themes.

Store Manager Hazel Knoblock stated, “The candy was shipped to us packed in Halloween display boxes, the kind where all you have to do is cut open the front.  You can stack the boxes on the shelves or build them up in displays if you want.  They’re pretty handy.  We have one employee who’s a genius at building seasonal displays for us, everything from football goalposts to thirty-foot beer gator.  He put a lot of work into that jack-o-lantern, and it almost makes you want to cry for the damage that [the suspect] did to it. It was like having a rat get into your pantry. Those boxes looked gnawed on.”

Rigsby was released Sunday on $11,500 bond and faces charges of indecent exposure, criminal trespassing, second degree petty theft, and criminal mischief. It’s unclear if he’s retained an attorney.

Of note is that the suspect returned to the same ShopMart location after his release to purchase the fleece throw quilt he had used earlier the previous week, calling it “the most comfortable blanket I ever passed out on.”

Store Manager Hazel Knoblock states that that type of quilt is currently sold out, but an additional shipment of quilts will be arriving soon.

 

Wireless Device Used to Hack Customer Records At Local Store

October 17, 2019 — PENSACOLA, Fla. — A customer database at a local ShopMart was hacked during the last week using a small wireless device that connected to an unsecured computer network via wireless router, with hundreds of customer records, including the credit card information of several nuns, potentially at risk.

THE END

 

Geeky gothics and other strange & wonderful fiction: sign up for the Wonderland Press newsletter here. Includes two tales of Doctor Rudolpho, a teenaged fortune-teller who has the Sight.  If you enjoyed today’s story, please consider signing up!

You can find 2018’s story-a-day project, Tales of the Normal, here, and 2017’s story-a-day project, October Nights, here.

Crime du Jour, Day 16: Identity Theft

Crime du Jour: 31 Days of Malfeasance, Misconduct, and Immorality

One crime story per day, all the way through October. Ebook to be published Nov 1. This will be under my mystery/crime pen name, Diane R. Thompson!

 

Crime du Jour #16: Identity Theft

THE CLOISONNÉ HEART

 

The question of who my mother was only arose after her death. I had put some of her ashes inside a jewel-like, enameled cloisonné heart specially made to hold them. On the back of the heart was a threaded screw—a big plug, really. You put the ashes in, then screwed the plug shut. There was no way to unscrew the plug, no screwdriver slot or edges to grip on, once you had tightened it. Once it was in, it wasn’t coming out. The heart came with a little stand, so you could display it.

The rest of her ashes I scattered around the farm, trespassing because the property had long since been sold.

Our family’s savings and property were stolen by a con man in the late 1980s, when I was in ninth grade. At first no one could believe it. We limped along, trying to pay bills, until finally the bank lay down the law. Then we moved to Cheyenne, where my father got a job with a government bureau helping other farmers navigate their own bankruptcies.

I’ve looked over the paperwork. The con was a fairly common investment scam that involved going in on shares on guaranteed high-yield property around the East Teapot Dome Oil Field.

It was a deal too good to be true.

Mom worked tirelessly to hold the family together, working two jobs and cooking a dozen meals at a time to put in the freezer, for nights when she wouldn’t be home until late. She volunteered at our new church, not because she had the time, but because she felt obliged to repay the community for helping us out when we moved.

As the sale of the farm went through and the debts were paid off and the police had tracked down the man who had fooled Dad so badly, although we were given to understand that we’d never get the money back—that is, as things started to look up—Mom seemed to shrink in upon herself. She lost her temper over the smallest issues. She quit volunteering for the church. She put on weight. More than once, she wasn’t where she said she was. None of us had cell phones back then. She would blame me for the times when no one could find her: she had told me what my curfew was, and I was lying about her behavior in order to shift the blame.

I convinced myself that she was right, and that I should be ashamed of myself.

Then we were hit by identity thieves.

This was the early 1990s by then. A dozen credit cards were opened in my name, in Mom’s name, in Dad’s name. The savings that I had worked summers and after school to pay for college disappeared. All our savings did. Every vehicle we owned had liens taken out against them. A second mortgage had been dumped on the house. The thief had done everything they could to clean us out.

Once again, Mom held us together. Whatever had been wrong with her reversed itself. Her color came back, she lost weight, she took on a second job, and she started volunteering again.

Despite not having a lot of savings—I had switched banks once I turned eighteen—I started college at the University of Wyoming.

I had scholarships that covered most of what I needed, and a loan from my English teacher that covered the rest. I didn’t tell my mother that I was going. I don’t know why. I think I just assumed that she knew, given the mail that came from the college. I had Dad sign anything that needed to be signed. Nobody talked about it. Mom never said, “I know that money is tight, but…” I turned in my two-week notice at the hotel I worked at, washed my laundry, packed clothes and a few other things, and—went.

When I got there, I didn’t know my own phone number at my dorm room yet.

The first night I was at college, I went out to a freshman orientation thing that my roommate, Graciela, had opted to skip. The phone rang off the hook, at least two dozen prank calls of someone “screaming incoherently.” Graciela eventually left the phone off the hook.

By the time I went home for the first time, in October, Mom claimed that she had known all along that I was going to college. She even told everyone that she had saved up “pin money” to give me the last of what I needed that first semester.

I didn’t think, or talk, about it.

I slowly scraped my way out of my identity-theft issues. I fought with credit reporting agencies and wrote letters and studied accounting. The guy who had ripped Dad off initially had gone to prison, with the police telling us that “someday” we might receive pennies on the dollar, based on the guy’s prison-labor wages, at something like a dollar an hour.

Then Mom got sick with liver cancer and Dad got hit by the identity thieves again.

It wiped my parents out. They were lucky they had health insurance.

I had locked everything down, so the thief wasn’t able to get much from me—and I was quickly able to get the charges reversed. But the teacher who had loaned me the money I needed for my first semester got hit, too, at the same time. She lost her house.

Mom died.

It wasn’t until this year that it all started coming out. Dad found some bills stuffed between the drywall and the foundation, after he had had to make some repairs due to water damage last spring. Bills for credit cards taken out under my English teacher’s name.

I tracked down five hundred thousand dollars that Mom stole from us. But never what she did with it.

Afterward, that heart full of ashes, which I kept, seemed mawkishly appropriate.

THE END

 

Geeky gothics and other strange & wonderful fiction: sign up for the Wonderland Press newsletter here. Includes two tales of Doctor Rudolpho, a teenaged fortune-teller who has the Sight.  If you enjoyed today’s story, please consider signing up!

You can find 2018’s story-a-day project, Tales of the Normal, here, and 2017’s story-a-day project, October Nights, here.

Crime du Jour, Day 15: Homicide

Crime du Jour: 31 Days of Malfeasance, Misconduct, and Immorality

One crime story per day, all the way through October. Ebook to be published Nov 1. This will be under my mystery/crime pen name, Diane R. Thompson!

 

Crime du Jour #15: Homicide

FELONY MURDER RULE

 

It was a meeting of the Little Old Ladies’ club, and this month the three of them were having brunch at the Oak & Ash, a new restaurant run by a nice gay couple in their thirties, the sort of people who would have been called “roommates” back in the day.

“I think they’re hipsters,” Edna said. “Isn’t that what you call the Millennials these days?  Hipster neckbeards? I bet they named the restaurant after their woods.”

Edna, the oldest, had watched too much Golden Girls while she was going through menopause and it had done things to her mind.

Ronnell said, “I dare you, you redheaded tramp, say that to the waiter’s face. Say it!”

Carrie said, “What do you think about mezcal?”

Edna said, “It’s just the hipster name for tequila.”

“I meant what kind,” Carrie said. “I’m having the ‘Naked and Famous.’ Mezcal, aperol, chartreuse jaune, and lime.” They all knew that aperol was an Italian apéritif with gentian and rhubarb in it; they had been drinking their way through cocktail lists for decades. Ronnell opted for a “Sunshine” with white rum and pineapple juice, and Edna ordered a pear mojito, shouting after the waiter, “And don’t stiff me on the mint!”

Carrie said, “This month’s business starts off with the Ralph Juza case.”

Ronnell flicked her French-manicured nails. “That whole situation annoys me. Two men, Ralph Juza and Arthur Monk, are strangers to each other. Arthur Monk holds up a coffee shop and takes all the money out of the till and the safe in the office.  Juza is a bystander. He’s frozen in terror.  Edmond Crouch, the coffee shop owner, takes a pistol and shoots Monk.  And now Juza is being tried for homicide?  It makes no sense. Unless it’s a set-up.”

Carrie said, “But before Crouch shot Monk, Monk gave the money to Juza. Shoved it at him as he was trying to run. So now Juza’s involved.”

“Juza didn’t even know him!”

Edna said, “It was Juza’s money in the first place, since Crouch stiffed Juza on those plumbing repairs, which you didn’t mention.”

Ronnell said, “I still can’t see how Juza was involved with either the robbery or the murder.”

Carrie said, “Technically, because Juza panicked and ran off with the money after Monk was shot, he became an accessory after the fact, as well as abetting the murder—since he picked up the homeless Monk up off the street and offered to buy the man some coffee.”

Edna muttered, “It was Juza’s money. With Monk as the bill collector.”

Carrie rolled her eyes and continued. “The felony murder rule states that if any death results from the commission of certain violent felonies, that everyone involved in the commission of that felony can also be charged with first-degree murder.”

Ronnell said, “Doesn’t the death have to be someone who isn’t a criminal participant, at least in this state?”

Carrie screwed up her mouth to think as the waiter brought their drinks. Edna got the “Naked and Famous,” Carrie got the “Sunshine,” and Ronnell got the pear mojito, which was positively packed with mint leaves, an alcoholic salad.

“Keep or swap back?” Edna demanded.

“Swap,” Ronnell said.

“Keep,” Carrie said. “No, I want the pear mojito.” Ronnell got her “Sunshine” back and Edna stuck with the “Naked and Famous,” which made Carrie’s nose hairs curl just to smell it.

“Where were we?” Carrie asked.

Ronnell said, “Criminal participants.”

Carrie said, “If that is the case, Ronnell, I’m sure Juza’s lawyer will bring the criminal participant argument into play. Which would make it an easy dismissal.”

Edna said, “Unless someone has a chip on his shoulder.  Get it? Chip? Wood?”

Ronnell said, “Oh, didn’t I mention? There’s a reason why I picked the Oak & Ash for bunch.  And it’s him, Jesse Hall, one of the co-owners. He knows Crouch.”

All three of them turned toward Hall, a willowy young man in his thirties with a pompadour haircut.  He felt the power of their regard, and walked toward them.

“Can I get you anything, ladies? More drinks?”

Edna leaned forward to say something awful. Carrie put a hand over her mouth. Smoothly, Ronnell interjected, “We were just talking about the Juza case. Have you heard of it?”

Hall nodded.

“What’s your opinion?” Carrie asked.  “Is Juza guilty of murder, or isn’t he?”

“Technically…” said Hall.  “Yes?  He stole the money afterward, so he was involved in the shooting as an accessory after the fact. It’s the felony murder rule, which is–”

“We know it,” Carrie and Ronnell said, before he could explain.

Edna ripped Carrie’s hand away from her mouth.  “Crouch acted in self-defense.  So it was never murder in the first place. Justifiable homicide. You can’t charge a man for a crime that was never committed.”

Ronnell said, “I heard Crouch kept blanks in that gun.  Not live ammo.”

Hall pursed his lips.  “I knew Crouch. He told everyone that he kept blanks in it.”

Carrie said, “But did he? What if he kept a box of blanks and a box of live ammo, so he could claim the rounds were switched by an accident?”

Ronnell said, “Or what if someone could have put a box of live ammo in with the blanks and switched it for him.”

Edna chortled.  “I’ve known some women who’ve done that with condoms.”

Carrie said, “But who?”

Ronnell said, “As far as anyone can tell, Monk was just an ordinary robber. An opportunist who had been arrested for the same crime before. He’d never been in the store before.”

Carrie said, “…until Juza brought him to the coffee shop.”

The case spread out before her: Juza had swapped the bullets, set up the murder, with either Monk killing Crouch or vice versa–he didn’t care which–and got himself arrested for a crime that would be dismissed.

All so he couldn’t be forced to go to trial twice over the same crime, because of the Double Jeopardy clause of the Fifth Amendment.

Clever.

She looked at Ronnell.  Ronnell winked.

Hall shrugged.  “All I know is, Juza was a terrible plumber, and he had gone to the coffee shop to argue with Crouch about whether Crouch was going to sue him for shoddy workmanship. Crouch is going to have to have all his pipes torn out and replaced.”

Edna said, “My ex-husband had to have that done, too.”

As Hall left, the three Little Old Ladies cackled in his wake.

THE END

 

Geeky gothics and other strange & wonderful fiction: sign up for the Wonderland Press newsletter here. Includes two tales of Doctor Rudolpho, a teenaged fortune-teller who has the Sight.  If you enjoyed today’s story, please consider signing up!

You can find 2018’s story-a-day project, Tales of the Normal, here, and 2017’s story-a-day project, October Nights, here.

 

 

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