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
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, 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.
“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.
“In,” I said.
And then I finished my steak.
This story features the main character (Liz Hicks) from my forthcoming Diane R. Thompson novel, A Dark and Cozy Night.
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