Checking into the Local B&E; or Malthus & Marx at Play
Violated, outraged, vulnerable, angry, betrayed, anxious, apprehensive, and even vengeful are normal emotional reactions to being robbed. Given who I’ve been working for over the last few years, I have most of those feelings before I get dressed to go to the office.
Just now, as I rolled a 90mile Churchill cigar between my thumb and forefinger, my emotional state was one of curiosity. The investigators, who were conducting a forensic examination of my office, did so in a professional but unenthusiastic manner that suggested they lacked any optimism as to actually identifying the party responsible for the destruction of the place. For my part, I was equally unenthusiastic about their presence, as it was delaying progress on the web conference and my final steps in turning my association with Abby Norman, the formerly wealthy Mormon, to some sort of profit.
“Mr. Lynn?” a familiar voice called to me.
I looked over to see a face I hadn’t seen in several years. “Officer Ballinger?” I asked.
“Detective Ballinger,” he corrected me.
I extended a hand. “Congratulations. Are you still working with your partner?”
“No,” he said, shaking my hand, “he was assigned to an FBI task force in Naples.”
“Congratulations?” I asked.
“It worked out for him. From what I hear, it’s worked out for you,” Detective Ballinger said.
“Endless litigation and an office in disarray?” I asked, referring simultaneously to my ex-wife and my office.
“Could’ve been worse,” Detective Ballinger offered.
“I have that exact quote framed in my living room and orders that it be placed on a stone after I die,” I concurred.
“I have a few questions for you,” Detective Ballinger said, down-shifting to a more official tone.
“Please, feel free to ask any questions that occur to you. But understand, it’s highly likely that I’ll have no answers,” I said, and retrieved my cigar punch from my pocket.
“Perhaps we should take this interview outside?” Detective Ballinger suggested.
“So long as you don’t mind my smoking,” I smiled, welcoming the opportunity to light up my first cigar in over four weeks.
“As long as you stand down wind, that’s fine by me,” Detective Ballinger said.
“Not a cigar fan?” I said, cocking a brow at him.
“No, I am a cigar fan, but I promised the wife I’d lay off. If she smells it on me . . .” he trailed off.
“Not to worry. I would never knowingly sow the seeds of domestic discord,” I said, and stepped outside into the parking lot.
“Mr. Lynn,” Detective Ballinger began, as I punched and lit my Cuban.
“Cusper,” I suggested.
“Cusper,” he amended. “It’s my understanding that you left the office earlier this afternoon.”
“That’s correct,” I said, judging the direction of the breeze and stepping accordingly to avoid bathing the detective in a plume of smoke.
“And where did you go?” Detective Ballinger said, taking notes.
“I went home to work on some writing,” I answered.
“Home?” Detective Ballinger asked, now raising an eyebrow at me.
“Home,” I said. And then, in the ensuing silence, I felt compelled to add, “My office needed to be wired for the web conference and I needed somewhere quiet to work.”
“So you sent everyone away?” he asked.
“I had everyone working on different things,” I corrected.
“But you made a point of sending Abbot Norman and Jeremiah Fulsome out to do an interview . . .” Detective Ballinger resumed.
“Abby and technology are not a good mix,” I cut him off.
“And yet you’re putting him on the web?” Detective Ballinger shot back.
I shrugged. “It is the current opiate of the masses. If it were 90 years ago, I’d be putting him on the radio. You work with the means of production available.”
“Do you often paraphrase communists?” Detective Ballinger asked.
“Only when I can’t figure out a way to paraphrase Malthus,” I answered, taking a long draw on my cigar and looking at the trees encircling the parking lot.
Detective Ballinger sighed. “At this point, I can account for the whereabouts of Mr. Norman, Mr. Fulsome and Ms. Markson.”
“Really? Would you be available to account for Ms. Markson on a regular basis? I can only tell where she is by starting with the premise that she isn’t at work,” I said.
“Mr. Lynn, according to a number of eyewitnesses, Ms. Markson was in Clearwater today,” Detective Ballinger said, quickly losing patience with me.
“Oh, I imagine there were quite a few witnesses to the whereabouts of Ms. Markson,” I agreed.
“So that leaves Ms. Featherton and you,” Detective Ballinger concluded.
“Featherton?” I asked, truly confused for the first time in the conversation.
“Millicent Featherton, your I.T. person. The one you left at your office,” Detective Ballinger said, giving me a probing look.
“Gadget?” I asked.
“Yes I believe that’s what you call her. Jammer for her roller derby team,” Detective Ballinger added, reviewing his notes.
Normally, I would salt away a discovery like “Millicent” for later use and abuse, but given what I knew about Gadget I instead set by memory for “wipe.” Were I to slip and say anything other than Gadget, I would still have the same number of teeth, but they would be in my pocket.
“I trust Gadget,” I volunteered, making a point of never uttering her given name.
“Yes, that’s apparent. You left her with the key and the run of the place,” Detective Ballinger said.
“Absolutely. We need to get the place wired, our systems online, and be ready by Friday for the web conference,” I intoned.
“Detective Ballinger,” the patrol officer who first responded to the scene called from the front door.
The detective gave the patrol officer a look of irritation. “Yes?”
“The tech would like you to take a look at something,” the patrol officer said.
“Mr. Lynn, if you could wait here,” the detective said.
“I’ve no pressing engagements, and an excellent cigar. I’m quite content,” I answered, welcoming the opportunity to be alone with my thoughts.
“Thank you,” the detective said and went back into my office.
Smoke rose on the light gulf breeze that was moving out to sea, and I once again considered the trees that encircled the parking lot of my Gulf Gate office. Like Officer Ballinger, I was occupied with the question of who had broken into and trashed my office. Unlike officer Ballinger, I didn’t want this question answered officially until after Friday. The fact was an immediate solution might wrap up the police inquiry, but it might also close down the entire Abby Norman rebranding project.
Ruling out the last 15 years of my life and the most obvious cretins who had longstanding ill will towards me, I was left with the more immediate candidates. I was running through the list when Detective Ballinger returned.
“Mr. Lynn, is there anyone you can think of who would want to break into your office?”
“Hmm?” I said rising from my own thoughts and my cigar. “At the moment I suspect everyone.”
“Your ex?” Detective Ballinger asked, surprised.
I considered this. “No, you can rule her out. If she had done it there would have been goat’s blood and fire. She’s become very Old Testament lately.”
“Mr. Lynn, based on what we know so far, it appears that whoever did this broke in through the side door entrance and their activity was focused on your desk,” Detective Ballinger informed me.
“Fingerprints?” I asked.
“Outside of those known to be in the office, no. But there are some other findings that suggest another person,” Detective Ballinger paused. “Mr. Lynn, what was in your desk?”
“Nothing,” I said truthfully. “There was a notepad, a stack of collection notices for Abby, and maybe a few file folders. But other than that, nothing.”
“Is it possible Mr. Norman would have reason to want to get any of those notices or records?” Detective Ballinger asked.
“I don’t see why. There are fresh ones arriving daily. It’s not a secret that Abby has debts and legal actions pending,” I observed.
“What about money?” the detective asked.
“No,” I said.
“No, you don’t have money, or no there was none in the desk?” the detective asked pointedly.
“Either. Both. I paid out the last of the funds today. I am, as I stand here before you, entirely insolvent if this web conference doesn’t happen,” I said, then took a long drag on my cigar.
“Mr. Lynn, this doesn’t make sense. Whoever broke in focused on your office, on your desk,” Detective Ballinger said, his voice betraying apparent frustration.
“Detective Ballinger, as I said, I suspect everyone,” I said, waving my cigar to emphasize the point.
“Except your ex?” he said.
“No goat’s blood and no fire?” I asked.
“No,” the detective confirmed.
“So the ex is out and so is Gadget,” I said.
“Why? Because you trust her?” he asked dubiously.
“No, because she had run of the place. If there was anything she wanted, she could have gotten in and out without my ever knowing it, I wouldn’t be able to tell when it happened and the police would never have been called in. Gadget is not a fool.”
Detective Ballinger nodded but uttered not one word of agreement with my assessment.
“Have you any other thoughts?” he asked.
“Thoughts? At the moment, I was thinking what playing Texas Hold’em with Malthus and Marx would be like. Would Marx’s tell be on the ‘flop,’ to start going on about oppression of the proletariat? Would Malthus’s tell be on the ‘turn,’ to observe that while no man might claim to have seen the best hand ever that they could none the less consider a magnitude of improvement that could not be achieved without violation of the fundamental rules of the game? And so, in the finite nature of the pot at hand, we can see the limiting factors at play in the nature of negative and positive forces regulating population?” I said, gesturing at the now darkening night sky.
“Mr. Lynn,” the detective growled.
“I know, I know. I’m sure someone has already done a Master’s thesis on poker and political theories of economics,” I noted, agreeing with Detective Ballinger’s apparent frustration with the topic of economic theory.
“I want to know if you have any thoughts as to the break-in,” the detective corrected.
“Oh, that?” I said airily.
“Yes, Mr. Lynn, that!” the detective said.
“No. I don’t have any suspects in mind. No specific motives I can latch on to. My thoughts on Marx and Malthus weren’t entirely unrelated. I was just considering how in this country the crime is one of violating a person’s property right, whereas in a Marxist system, it would be the crime of a preference for personal property and therefore indicate a subversive and philosophically unsound citizen,” I continued.
“Mr. Lynn . . .” the detective began, trying to interrupt me.
“Both societies isolate the criminal, but for different reasons,” I continued undeterred. “Here, we understand the covetous nature as a sign of a healthy sense of ambition. In the Marxist system, they lock them away for longer because they see the citizen as philosophically unsound.”
“Mr. Lynn!” The detective successfully interrupted me. “Here is my card. If you think of anything directly related to the break-in here, give me a call.”
I took the card and looked at it. “I will,” I agreed. “I’m sorry. I told you it was very likely I would have no answers.”
The detective nodded and went to his car. Our interview had ended on a chillier note than it had begun.
After Ballinger took his leave, I finished my cigar and then retrieved my cellphone from my pocket. There’s a fundamental principle to success under all systems of government, and that is to determine how to turn any given set of circumstances to a profit. I dialed the number.
The familiar voice answered, “Tomlinson M, the M is for Marketing Magic.”
“Matt, my office was broken into this afternoon,” I said.
There was a long silence. “And?” Matt finally asked.
“They tossed my desk. They were looking for something very specific.”
“OK. And?” Matt continued.
“And you are going to get out your check book and write a big check,” I said, calmly, but firmly.
“Why would I do that?” Matt asked in a tone of utter amazement.
“First, because you want me to finish the Abby Norman re-launch,” I said.
“But I already wrote out a check for that!” he protested.
“And secondly, because you don’t want Detective Ballinger visiting you tonight for an in-depth discussion on the subjects of contracts and comparative theories of criminal law.”
# # #
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