Notoriety

PHOTO PROMPT © Ted Strutz

PHOTO PROMPT © Ted Strutz

Submitting this little tale with special thanks to our kind Friday Fictioneers host, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields for this week’s prompt.

NOTORIETY

There. I’ve Photo-Shopped dear Uncle Elbert out of this crazy prank. Shame to lose that smug grin of his, but my folks insisted.

Imagine Elbert besmirching the family name by taking up robbing banks! And Grandpa’s bank first of all, adding insult to injury. Dad says when Elbert’s career was terminated one fateful day, Grandpa refused to attend the funeral.

So I’ve successfully deleted Elbert from the family photos, but you know what must have Grandpa turning over in his grave? At family gatherings the great-grands mention him being a successful banker. But they talk about Uncle Elbert for hours.

A Counselor’s Toughest Job

Her eyes still fixed on the computer screen, Barb frowned and reached for the jangling phone. She had to leave for her meeting in half an hour and this was the third phone call. When would she ever get their monthly budget laid out if people kept interrupting her.

She glanced at the Caller ID screen, then sat up straight in her chair. The County Police wouldn’t be calling to pass the time of day. She pressed the Talk button, averting her eyes from the distracting screen. “Hey, Tammy. What’s up?”

“We need your counseling skills, Barb. A 19-year-old girl went missing from River Bend College yesterday. One of the teachers says she saw this girl walking in the parking lot around 11:30 am, likely going to her car, but she hasn’t made it home. Her family’s contacted everyone she knows and no one’s seen her. Now they’re frantic.”

“I would be, too. Any leads?”

“Not yet, but we’ve got a number of officers out searching the local hangouts around town, vacant lots, the side roads, abandoned buildings. And we’ve notified the boys from Forestry in case she’s wandered into the national park and gotten stranded.”

Barb raised her eyebrows. “Stranded?”

“That’s the word we’re using now. We can always hope she’s lost herself somewhere, or has holed up with a friend. But the family could really use your counseling skills right now. Will you talk to them, go over the “what ifs”? Try to keep them upbeat and hopeful, but prepare them…just in case…” Tammy’s words trailed off.

She voiced our worst fears. “There are fifty-four paroled sex offenders classed as “apt to re-offend” within a two-hundred mile radius of RBC and we’ve got officers checking on them all.”

Barb grimaced as she thought of her own children going to and from school every day. “I’ll be there as soon as I can. Let me grab a pen and jot down the address.”

She shut down her accounting program. Her family budget woes had just evaporated.

Partners In Crime

Written originally for Friday Fictioneers and posted on christinegoodnough.com

“I hid it in the old mill,” his note read. “Found a crack upstairs near that huge cog. No ‘eyes’ to watch me.”

She searched desperately, sensing her time running out. Rotten luck that the old lady recognized him in the lineup, but at least he’d managed to stash her wallet before they arrested him for assault.

Examining the floor and walls for a crevice big enough to hide a wallet, yet small enough to conceal one, she jumped when she heard footsteps coming up the stairs.

One of the curators appeared. “Lost your way, miss? We locked up fifteen minutes ago. Sorry, I thought everyone was out.”

~~~~~~~~~~

The next morning Wanda was standing at the museum doors five minutes before the place opened. As soon as the curator unlocked them she stepped inside, ready with her story.

“I … I must have dropped my cell phone here yesterday. I was walking around up by that big wheel and… and I took it out to check the time.” Wanda took a deep breath, hoping her nervousness wouldn’t give her away.

“I was sure I… had just…put it back in its special pocket and…and I…it must have slid out somehow. I didn’t have it when I got home. I’d like to…to just run up and look around. I’m sure it’s…

Wanda froze as her cell phone, from its usually pocket in her purse, started playing the tune to “Somebody’s Fool.” She turned a bright pink, silently berating herself. Why didn’t I think this might happen?

The curator looked at her in surprise. “It appears…”

“Oh, no. Not really,” she gasped. “I…like…uh… I borrowed my friend’s phone. Like, just in case I needed to call…uh… In case I didn’t find my wallet and…you know…needed stop credit cards…”

“I’m sorry. I’m not getting this. Did you lose your wallet, too?”

The temperature in the room shot up ten degrees. Maybe twenty. She gave herself a good mental slap, took another deep breath, and tried to save face. “Oh, dear. Now I’m getting mixed up. No, It was my phone, not my wallet. I’ll just be a minute looking for it.”

The curator eyed her a moment, looking as stern as the ancient mill owners whose portraits hung on the wall. Maybe he wondered if it was safe to allow her around those huge gears alone. Finally he nodded. “Go ahead. If you were standing on the landing maybe the sweeper found it last night. I’ll check in the office.”

“Oh, thank you so much.” Wanda turned and wasted no time getting up the stairs. Frantically she scanned the walls and the big wheel.

Thank goodness this part doesn’t have any security cameras, she thought. Not like the main lobby. I guess that’s why Nick stashed it here. A minute later she spotted something dark in a crack.

She was reaching for it when the curator appeared at the top of the stairs. “I had a thought, miss.” “If you use your friend’s phone and dial your own number your phone will ring and you’ll find it in a jiff.”

Wanda gritted her teeth. Isn’t it wonderful how helpful people could be when you wanted them to just beat it and leave you alone? But the museum curator stood there waiting for her to try out his bright idea, so what could she do? On an impulse, she dialed Nick’s number, knowing he was in jail and couldn’t answer.

“Hi. Sorry Nick isn’t home right now.” The voice definitely belonged to some young female. “I’ll be seeing him shortly. Can I take a message?”

“Hello? Who is this?” Nick’s going to hear about this chick answering his phone, Wanda thought. And what does she mean about seeing him shortly? Is she going to visit him in jail?

“My name’s Emmy. I’m Nick’s…um…friend. Can I ask who’s calling?”

“This is Wanda.”

“Wanda?”

“Nick’s girlfriend, Wanda.” She clenched her fists. Nick is definitely going to answer some questions when I see him again.

Aware that the curator was frowning at her, she whispered, “Sorry. I pushed the wrong redial. On my friend’s phone,” she added. He didn’t look impressed.

Emmy seemed to be in shock. “Nick’s…uh…girlfriend?”

“Nick’s fiancée.” Wanda almost shouted it into the phone. “He has mentioned me, surely.”

The curator rolled his eyes and headed down the stairs.

“No!” Wanda caught the sizzle in Emmy’s voice. “He never told me about you at all. Honest. The cheating rat!”

“You got that right.” Wanda jabbed the OFF button and stuffed the phone in her pocket. Just wait til I get my hands on you, Nick. You’re toast!

Quickly Wanda grabbed for the wallet. Nick had told her the old lady had just cashed her pension check, so likely there’d be a couple hundred dollars in her purse. She kind of felt sorry for the woman, a senior and all, but she needed the money herself. Badly. Her rent was due tomorrow. She sighed. What a life!

Once outside, she found a bench in a secluded spot and opened the wallet. “Two five dollar bills. That’s all! All this mess for two measly fives,” she squawked. She fumed for a moment, then pondered her options.

I’ve had it, she decided. I really was a fool to get mixed up with all this. Nick is history. She grabbed her cell phone and pushed a button.

The voice at the other end said a hesitant “Hello?”

“Hi, Mom. I’ve just learned a really important lesson in life.”

“Oh? And that is…?”

“Crime doesn’t pay. And being with Nick really doesn’t pay. I’m through with Nick and his wild schemes.”

“Oh, I’m so glad to hear you say that. We’ve been praying you’d come to your senses and see him for what he is.”

“Mom… Do you think you and Dad could…would…let me move back home for a few months. Just until I get my life straightened around?”

“Oh, Wanda. Yes. We’ll gladly help you. Just come anytime you’re ready.”

Thanks so much, Mom. See you in a bit.”

Wanda hung up and searched through the stolen wallet for ID. She had one important stop to make before she headed home.

My First AMAZON Book Review!

History was made at this house yesterday when I wrote up and posted my very first AMAZON book review. I was so excited I promptly followed with another! (I’ll post that one on Tuesday.)

I’d like to know how you others feel about the reviews you read on AMAZON. I’ve been checking out some books listed that I’ve read lately — and some I haven’t — and reading the reviews. I’m getting the impression the majority of reviewers just want to complain. Several of Carol Higgins Clark books I’ve read and really liked were trashed right, left and center.

All I can say is, “To each his own.” Some readers like salt, some like sugar, some like lemon and some like bland and some prefer a steady diet of junk food. I have my own likes and dislikes. I read Wuthering Heights because it’s considered a great classic; I considered it a great waste of time–unless you want to read a book that shows you how NOT to be. I’ll admit, it portrays the futility of being a greedy, miserable tyrant. Charles Dickens did much the same thing with Scrooge, but Scrooge got the picture and changed before it was too late, so I found A Christmas Carol very inspiring.

Fellow writer Joel Canfield is a real fan of Raymond Chandler’s Private Eye Marlowe. I like Joel’s protagonist for all the ways he’s NOT like Phillip Marlowe. If you are into mysteries, you may want to check this one out.

Here’s my unabridged review of A LONG HARD LOOK by Joel Canfield:

While I’m not really a mystery reader — and I abhor horror! — I found this book a compelling, fast-paced read and relatively easy on my poor nerves.

This tale echoes Chandler’s writing in that the protagonist is giving you a play-by-play account with only subtle hints of back-story. But in my opinion Canfield’s protagonist is more like “Phillip Marlowe meets Joe-Hardy.” He’s human; he has feelings; he’s rash at times. Unlike Marlowe, who relates cold details — I went here; found this body; shot that guy; too bad — Phil Brennan shares his motives and feelings as he gives the reader a first-hand account of events.

The story starts as Phil, an on-the-wagon not-really-private-eye, to do a small favor for Gil, a sobbing computer technician with a guilty conscience. Or so it seems. Will Phil correct an error on Gil’s computer at work?

Sure. Why not? The task seems simple enough — and the pay is good.

Thus Phil is dragged into involvement with a dysfunctional family by helping Gil — who’s found dead the next day. Phil is soon called on the carpet by Gil’s employer-dad for that favor and threatened with fates worse than death  — IF he doesn’t find Gil’s murderer.

Phil meets Gil’s sisters one by one and he falls for one of them. The focus shifts to family dynamics: a long-lost brother (or potential brother-in-law, in this case) meets four “sisters” and finds them spinning in a crazy situation. One is older and more level-headed. One has been a pawn in a strange game. One is a suspect. Did she murder Gil? If not, who did? How can they fix what’s broken here.

As sisters will, they all hen-peck him – one with a stiletto even — and he bears it patiently. But then, in spite of their wise counsel, he tries rattling another bush to see what he can flush out.

He shouldn’t have.

The story has a few spots that could be polished. There’s a lot of dialogue in this book; a few times I had to go back and work my way down to figure out who was talking. Daddy makes a brief appearance in Phil’s office soon after his computer-tech son, an incident that’s never touched on again. For all that his life has been threatened he isn’t too concerned about keeping his door locked.

However, the story is well written. Phil Brennan makes you care about him. When the story’s done you wish him well and would like to know what happens to him next.

Who Pays the Cost?

Money Doesn’t Grow On Trees

I can’t tell you how many times my parents recited that cliché when I was young, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized the truth in that saying. It’s as inescapable as the law of gravity. Jump off as many buildings as you wish, use whatever means you choose to stay afloat; you’ll always come down sooner or later.

If I buy something I must pay for it; to pay for it I must earn the money somehow. (Or “beg, borrow, or steal.”) If I punch a time clock the money my employer pays me has to come to the company by some means – usually sales. And the people who pay my employer must get their income from some means. Round and round.

National economies are ruled by the same law. Grain may grow in fields; minerals may be mined, but all natural resources must be converted into solid currency. If our province pulls $2 million out of the ground in potash, they must sell this on an international market. The country they sell it to must earn the purchase money from their own resources or production. If a country doesn’t have funds to cover their costs, they have to borrow money from those who do.

Unlike the US Treasury, most of us can’t just print more money and expect it to fly. And if you or I would manage to successfully print up, say, 1000 $20 bills, our own country has to stand behind every $20 we circulate. Likewise a government has to stand good (in terms of gross national product) for every $20 they print and circulate.

The Skeptic in Me

When I see “get rich quick” or “make money online” or “I earn thousands every day just by…” I wonder who’s paying this fabulous income they are promising? It may all be above board – but I’m sure somebody somewhere is selling something to someone in order to generate that income.

Back in the days of Prohibition here in North America crafty rum-runners made good money carrying liquor from wet states to dry ones. These illegal kegs of booze were sold to drinking establishments, who sold it undercover to their patrons. And well-to-do patrons could spare the cash – because they had employees working for them to generate their income. But many drinkers paid for their booze with money that would have fed their wives and children.

This was the WTCU’s whole argument for wanting to shut down the liquor industry. Women trying to help these suffering families were seeing the reality of this every day; they hoped the law would change this and end the deprivation. Alas, Temperance laws were a dismal failure because you can’t make laws that “dry” people’s hearts. But these women did have a right view of the economics. Someone was paying the cost.

Back in the 60s my cousin purchased a corner grocery store in a large city and he made a decent living at it for several years. Alas! he had a bit of the speculator in him; the guy ready to take a risk in order to make big bucks. So when a fellow came along with an invention and needed a partner to go in with him, my cousin bit.

It was a classic scam. “Lend me enough to buy the patent, get into production, and we’ll split the profits.” According to my mom, he handed over a sum between three and six thousand dollars – and guess what? The profit from his little store wasn’t enough to cover that debt and he was forced to sell at a loss. Perhaps knowing all this has given me my abhorrence of “easy money” schemes.

Con Man
fast talking vendor
sells me castles in the air
holes in my pockets

Some folks prefer to not know, to not delve into exactly how this income is being generated. Like the Ontario man who was paid $10,000 to park his van in an airport parking lot for two hours, leaving the keys under the floor mat, then come back and drive home again. He didn’t ask any questions; he was happy with the cash – until he got to the border and his van was searched.

Some folks simply direct others, pass information, or whatever, to someone else in exchange for a deposit to their bank account. They are just as happy to not know where the buck stops at the other end. Like, who’s paying for this information and what are they doing with it? Cynic that I am, I want to see the whole thread clearly displayed accurately.

“Click on this button” and it may explain in detail how I can go about making big money. (Or will it just send my e-mail address to a spammer?) But I have to know who’s ultimately paying the cost before I click on anything.

As for hacking and e-mail address theft, I tend to look at that as a crime against humanity.

Cyber Crime
smarts to succeed,
scruples to trample others
bloodless cruelty