Hey Gang- Here it is: history in the making. After a long hiatus from Adventures in Crime Fictioneering, my old buddy Jim Winter has agreed to pinch-hit for me on this go-round in the Sleuthsayers rotation.
A bit about Jim: "Jim Winter" is the witness protection name of science fiction writer TS Hottle. As Jim, he wrote the Nick Kepler series and Road Rules, a raucous tale about a trip from Cleveland to Savannah with a stolen holy relic in the trunk. At the insistence of his wife Candy, his original novel Northcoast Shakedown, will return to publication in the next few weeks, followed by his novels Second Hand Goods, and Bad Religion. As TS, he can be found at tshottle.com. As Jim Winter, he will be back on teh intrawebz soon and is shopping his EXCELLENT police procedural novel, Holland Bay, as we speak. He is a software developer and lives with his wife, Candy, in suburban Cincinnati.
(And by the way, I can say that Holland Bay is "excellent," because I served as a first reader on it, and let me tell you: it's a damned fine read!) And on that note, take it away, Jim!
OK, where was I before I absconded under my birth name to become the next James SA Corey. (Hey, could still happen! I've already been two people.)
Ah, yes, I was talking about real crime and fictional cities. And if I'm invited back, I'll have more to say on setting and characters and where events in crime fiction come from. Like listening to what led to the Jonestown Massacre.
But today, I'm going to talk about when crime staggered into my personal life. The year was 2015. When I got divorced, I had a property east of Cincinnati that I still own but haven't lived in for 11 years as of this writing. My original tenant moved out shortly after I locked myself into a lease on an apartment. The original plan was to take back the condo after the lease was up. My tenant had other plans and had bought his own place closer to the city.
So I rented out the house to a young couple. At the time, I failed to do two things: 1.) Have a coworker at the background check company where I'd just started look over the background check that came back, and 2.) realize that no credit is worse than bad credit for a reason. I thought they were a young couple starting out.
It was not an easy eight months when they lived there. They were slowly destroying the property and annoying the neighbors, most of whom actually liked me before they moved in. What I did not know is that the Union Township Police had been to the house.
See, here's a quirk in Ohio law. You can be evicted for just suspicion of drug use. I did not know this nor did I know the first police report contained the word "opiates" six times. The boyfriend spent July in jail on a parole violation. (This is why I use my employer for background checks now. I did not even know he was on parole.) But the following month...
It was a terrific day. I was up early. Got a great shower. Was going to be to work very early and knock out a project that had been much neglected. I get out of the shower to find seven missed phone calls from the boyfriend and a text. "Please call us. Emergency."
Great. They burned down my house. And probably the neighbors', too.
I call back to get tales of a wild animal trapping them in the bedroom. Yikes! They wanted me to call animal control, which is privatized in Clermont County, Ohio. It was $300 just to come out there.
Well... I pay property taxes to fund these people who carry guns called "Police" and promptly called the Union Township Police. I told them my tenants believed a wild animal was in the house. I called back. The animal was now a raccoon. OK, believable. With all the trash these two kept leaving on the back deck, I would not be surprised. Then I decided to head over myself. Something told me I would need to. I called again to say I was on my way.
"It's a coyote!"
OK, there are two possibilities. Clermont County - Hell, the area I live in the northern Cincinnati suburbs - is lousy with coyotes. Only they hunt in packs and don't usually come out in the day. Still, there was an outside possibility that this wild dog was in my house pissing, crapping, and digging all over my carpet.
Occam's razor suggested these two were higher than kites.
I arrived at the condo to find an annoyed police officer coming around the corner. "You the landlord?"
I said I was.
"There is no animal in there."
"Will your police report reflect their suspected drug use?"
"Are you kidding me?"
I wasn't. And it did. My new favorite police term became "Using 69," code for, "Suspect(s) high on narcotics." I was told to run, don't walk to the Union Township Police Station to request two police reports from June and from that August day for the property. I had them within the hour, including the one that said their children had been removed for "presence of opiates in the infant's bloodstream."
Holy God, those poor kids.
The kids were with relatives, and I soon had the couple booted from the house. It cost me a large chunk of my retirement fund to fix the place up, but I got the place turned around.
I've since looked in on them from time to time via the court web site. The tragedy here is that they still aren't clean, and they still are frequently in and out of jail. Since they are both usually non-violent offenders, the court turns them loose rather than take up space needed for more violent criminals.
It's a tragedy, one that needlessly plays out every day. Mt. Washington, where I used to live, went from quaint pseudo-suburb to an epicenter of the opioid crisis. The slide was not pretty and was just starting when I moved out.
I currently live in Deer Park, where the worst crime seems to be committed by those idiots who set off firecrackers at 3 AM every freaking night between Memorial Day and July 4. Do I count myself lucky?
No, I got burned directly by the opioid epidemic, and so did several neighbors. And this couple's children. And quite often, I ask myself what might have happened if I had said no or moved back in myself. Naturally, I would have had less aggravation, but would those two still have their kids if they had to move back in with mom and dad? Would they have ended up getting clean?
We'll never know.