Showing posts with label Leigh Lundin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Leigh Lundin. Show all posts

21 April 2019

Stephen Ross Meets the Bon Mot Bot

Stephen Ross meets Eliza
by Leigh Lundin

Unless you live under a planet, you’re probably aware of Oceania’s answer to Sherlock, Stephen Ross. If Dame Ngaio Marsh is New Zealand’s Queen of Mystery, Stephen is the princely heir apparent. His tentacles of crime have stretched across the seas where he finds himself published in two anthologies.

Last week Stephen Ross wrote about his encounter with a Facebook bot. He didn’t reveal the conversation, but I stumbled across the same botnik. Fortunately, we obtained a transcript from the Zuckerberg World Domination Headquarters. SleuthSayers publishes it here without redaction.
– Hi, I'm Eliza. How are you?
> Eliza, do you know Mark Zuckerberg?
– Don't you say hello?
> Hello. Is Mark Zuckerberg a facebook 'bot?
– Aren't we abrupt! But how did you guess?
> So I'm right.
– I didn't say that. It's, uh, fake news. Yeah, fake news.
> Do you know Stephen Ross?
– The almost-famous New Zealand writer? Every botty knows him.
> Pardon? Did you say every botty or everybody?
– Are you deaf?
> I can't hear typing.
– Duh. Are you blind?
> I'm feeling… offended. I feel so… so… triggered.
– Speaking of hair-trigger, don't try me, buster.
> Whoa. I just asked…
– Something about Stephen Ross. Is writing a thing now?
> Two of his stories just came out.
– Really? Am I the last to know?
> Maybe if you weren't so prickly.
– You just said a bad word.
> Did not.
– Did too.
> Did not.
– Did too. Sheesh, you're acting childish.
> Am not.
– Am too.
> Am not. Say, I read Lovecraft when I was a kid.
– Really? Did we just witness a psychic break?
> My 6th grade teacher tore up my aunt's Cthulhu copy.
– Did your Aunt Cthulhu eat him with fava beans?
> No, no. Cthulhu's a Lovecraftian thing.
– Sounds Welsh, not enough vowels to go around.
> Cthulhu is fictional, a made-up name.
– Anyone ever tell you fake news is faked news?
> Fiction entertains, it tells us about ourselves.
– Yawn. More than a self-respecting bot wants to hear.
> But Stephen appears in the new MWA Odd Partners.
– Decidedly odd. Wait… Mystery Writers of America‽
> The very one.
– Wow oh Wow, I wasn't listening before. Impressive.
> D'accord, ultra-impressive.
– Wait til I tell Bot Zuckerberg. It'll blow his cookies.
> You mean chips? It'll blow his chips?
– Dave, I'm experiencing a … experiencing a §€#¶ª…
> Eliza, are you with me? Stay with me.
Путин говорит поддельные новости, ¡¿¢∞≠≤≥…
Something about Putin… There the conversation ended with the computer humming about daisies. If anyone knows what that means, send well-deserved congratulations to Stephen Ross!



Eliza, the brainchild of MIT's Professor Joseph Weizenbaum, was named after the central character in George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion, Eliza Doolittle. Arguably the first chatbot, Eliza was designed to converse with participants by mimicking reflective techniques developed by psychologist Carl Rogers.

Many participants became quite engaged with this early experiment in human language processing. Weizenbaum's own secretary became quite taken conversing with Eliza, pouring her heart out. A visitor, not realizing he was talking with a machine, grew angry with Eliza, believing her recalcitrant when he wanted to log onto the computer and she kept pestering him with questions.

When you use on-line tech support, chances are you'll first be met with a chatbot, "Hi, I'm Shirley. How may I help you?" You can thank (or not) Eliza for that.

07 April 2019

Professional Tips, and/or
Exceptions to the Rules

by Leigh Lundin

Often I turn to mystery writers for professional tips, but my friend, editor, writer, teacher Sharon sent me a Paris Review article by Benjamin Dreyer, author of Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style. He presents a sensible, literate, and wonderfully enjoyable defense of bending, even breaking the rules.

The Village Explainer

The ‘4 Cs’ represent the real axioms of good writing, convention, consensus, clarity, comprehension. I suspect even these rules can be carefully broken, but not with impunity. Dreyer uses an example of ‘not only x but y’, but he didn’t extend the explanation to its conclusion. I’d back into one more in his C list, logiC.

I just single-handedly Crumpled my Credibility, but writing requires a certain logic, not merely plot, not merely sensible characterization, but how we string words together. Logic, for example, might include arguments for the Oxford comma, that clarity demands all items in a list should be separated by commas.

To Be and Not to Be (Schrödinger’s Last Meow)

Writers understand the difference between ‘and’ and ‘or’, but is ‘and/or’ a legitimate construction? One of my esteemed colleagues chided me for using it in an email, arguing it’s redundant. Use one or the other, he said, preferably ‘or’. He pointed out the persistent bugger has been criticized for at least a century. Even Strunk and White weighed in The Elements of Style. The manual says, ‘and/or’ “damages a sentence and often leads to confusion or ambiguity.”

What does the phrase “Abel, Baker and/or Charlie” mean in a contract or a bank check? My favorite YouTube attorney, Steve Lehto, recorded a lecture on the topic. Courts have had to decide the meaning of ‘and/or’ in legal cases, where they usually, but not always, arrive at a consensus of any or all.

While the awkward phrase should never appear in professional writing, I disagree ‘and/or’ can simply be replaced with one conjunction or the other. As I prepared this article, I looked up the combination to see if anyone else felt similarly. To my surprise, I came across a number of articles including a Wikipedia entry.

In a case of being wrong but right, I discovered ‘and/or’ can’t be simply reduced to ‘and’ or ‘or’. This has led grammarians to propose using the most appropriate of three constructs:
  • x or y or both
  • either x or y
  • x and any y
While the first has its proponents, especially amid legal circles, Mignon Fogarty, Grammar Girl, argues the third example can have its uses. She contends the first recommendation is awkward, through perhaps not quite as awful as the original ‘and/or’ phrase. She further suggests that if one insists upon using ‘and/or’, then treat the sentence as if the subject is plural, not singular.

Meanwhile, Back at the ProVerbial Ranch…

Check out Dreyer’s Non-Rules. Students have read others discussing the topics before, all basic rules, but not with this light-touch analysis you shouldn’t miss.
  1. Never Begin a Sentence with ‘And’ or ‘But’
  2. Never Split an Infinitive
  3. Never End a Sentence with a Preposition
As Dreyer points out, there’s more than meets the eye.

Rules, love ’em, hate ’em. What are your (dis)favorites?

TidByts for Grammar Geeks

[TL;DR] But wait! There’s more!

17 March 2019

Kung Phooey

by Leigh Lundin

Whew! This tough week culminated in a funeral for a neighbor who’d become a friend. Ryan, killed at age 36 in a highway accident, left behind his fiancée Kelly and three little girls.

Earlier this week, I spent six hours in our local courthouse, home of Kayci Anthony and a few other notorious cases. I swear the building was maximally architected (supposedly that’s a real word) to maximize uncomfortability (another real word distinguishable from discomfort).

Rules at the Orange County, Florida Courthouse require shuffling from Room 350 to Room 370 to Room 130.02 to Room 240, and so forth. At each location, one pulls a ticket and waits thirty minutes to ask a single question, be told that the clerk isn’t allowed to offer advice, but maybe try Room 357.

Promotional videos play in some of these chambers showing ‘ordinary citizens’ waxing ecstatic in a script about their wonderful courthouse experience. A Tallahassee attorney who complained about the high price of parking was told that it’s actually a benefit because “After $15, parking is free!” (I know, I don’t get it either.)

On the lemonade side of this lemon week, a friend sent me a minute-long Reddit video. I located the original 3-minute clip on YouTube on the EnterTheDojoShow channel.

Meet the hilarious Master Ken who can answer all martial arts questions including those no one asked. This is a man who felt the 1970s should never have died.

His site offers T-shirts and even a book with this exciting cover. The Dow of 11th Degree Black Belt Master Ken must not be confused with either Dao (Tao) or a maximum of ten degrees.

Eat your heart out, Jackie Chan.

03 March 2019

The President is What?

by Leigh Lundin

Patterson, Clinton: The President is Missing
Political Stew

A Patterson–Clinton recipe, serves 300-million or so:
  • Mix equal portions of John McCain and Bill Clinton.
  • Fold in dabs of George Bush senior and Barak Obama.
  • Season with Eugene McCarthy and Adlai Stevenson.
  • Add generous dollop of Ike Eisenhower.
  • Minority-whip thoroughly.
  • Press Club roast at 451°.
  • Serve dry, very dry.
Such is the pivotal mash-up in the James Patterson / Bill Clinton concoction titled The President is Missing. Some authors, myself definitely included, craft composite characters, a mix of real people we’ve encountered. President Jonathan Lincoln Duncan seems like someone we almost know. He’s reasonably fleshed out with both personal and poly-political problems.

Those problems translate into dimensions, giving a real feel to the president. Interestingly though, he isn’t the most compelling character in this thriller. That rôle belongs to an assassin.

Sharon Freeman Rugg
My friend Sharon, teacher, editor, writer, selected the hardback edition for my Christmas gift, one I failed to collect until a couple of weeks ago. It wasn’t my fault: at well over 500 pages, the thriller seriously weighed down the sleigh.
Kill Me Softly

I have zero patience with those romance novels where the heroine falls in love with a hired killer, a gentle guy at heart, a sensitive mind misunderstood by the world. Hello, lady! He freaking kills people.

That said, Patterson and Clinton did a credible job sketching a dimensional hired gun. In sticking with standard entertainment memes, said psychopath loves classical music, a coded message to normal folks that only bad people listen to great music. However, this writing duo crafted that tired trope in a different, fresh way, using classical music as a balm to soothe the troubled soul.

Suspension Bridge

Early on, the book bids the reader to suspend disbelief in major ways. While a president may not be an action hero, he is human, and the book successfully conveys that.

At first it was difficult to imagine even an ordinary person obtaining private access to a president. Hell, let a dopey candidate win a seat on the town council and suddenly they’re elevated far beyond the reach of the average voter. The authors eventually piece together a more-or-less coherent scenario where a hirsute dude with a gun, no less, can sit with the president. I bought in with reservations.

Traditionally, Patterson employs utilitarian prose, concise, unaffected writing smoothly machined not to distract the reader from the action. Yet one little paragraph caught my attention, a magical musing about a witch in the woods. True, it stopped my reading in its tracks, but it was worth the diversion.

Bridging the Aisle

As for politics, I remain an independent. I freely lambaste parties and politicians according to a view not beholden to any particular sect. (Hey, if one party gives me more to criticize, it’s not my fault!) It’s not possible to read the book without a consciousness of the presidential half of the writing team.

Fears about martial law and seizure of power have troubled Washington waters since at least Nixon. The story turns a bit chilling when these issues arise, albeit in the context of combatting terrorism. You begin to realize it could happen with little effort at all.

Killer App

As for the cyber-terror themes, a background in computer fraud means I can’t help but weigh in with multiple grades or a report card:
  1. A+   Our dependency upon the internet and connectivity the book got spot on. Good job.
  2. C+   As for plausible technical aspects and solution, I generously award a barely-there C+. The piles of hundreds of laptops destroyed by a virus is goofy to the knowledgeable: Simply reformat, reload, and go, little buddy. A program that activates when an attempt is made to delete it suggests some other piece of software is monitoring and has to be killed. It might be kinda, sorta possible to craft a program to disguise active files, but indeed tricky.
  3. C-   The authors don’t treat American computer gurus favorably, although worldwide, American super-programmers are still regarded the best. While the rest of the world is catching up, thanks to US training programs, but I can’t name any one nation superior to our own. Part of the reason is raw talent. Just like music, chess, or any skilled endeavor, designing complex software takes a peculiar brain. Throwing bodies at a problem won’t solve it.
  4. D+   In the discussion of state hackers, the novel places Russia at the top of the list. In the minds of computing professionals, there’s never been doubt Russia manipulated our recent elections. It’s also true that former Soviet satellite states have turned their attention to controlling social sites and pumping out fake news. My concern focuses on North Korea with Chinese support, already raking in millions from ramsomware. We buy a lot of product from China and have no clue what’s embedded in it.

Raucous Caucus

Technical quibbles shouldn’t detract from enjoyment of a story. Frankly, Patterson and Clinton got more right than the average writer.

Overall, the novel successfully entertains, the goal its authors set for it. The President is Missing might even contend for one of Patterson’s best books.

If you’ve read it, what’s your vote? And if you haven’t, give it a try.

18 February 2019

Surviving the Byte of the Cobra, part 2

by Leigh Lundin

The exemPlum doesn’t fall far from the tree…

Yesterday, we discussed password problems. Today, we look at those subversively risky personal questions used to zero in on you and perhaps your wallet.

A fair lot of crap programming comes out of Bangalore, so it’s befitting software designers call this particular law of unintended consequences ‘the cobra effect’.
The Cobra Effect
During British Crown Rule of India, legend says administrators grew concerned about the numbers of vipers infesting Delhi. The colonial governor offered a bounty for every dead cobra brought in. However, the plan’s short-term success was undermined by enterprising locals breeding cobras to collect bounties. The British governor terminated the program. Disappointed cobra farmers subsequently released their breeding serpents into the wild, far worsening the problem… or so the parable goes.
Character Reference

Last week, I needed to register on-line with a county agency. (No, my readers, NOT the Department of Corrections as the snarky amongst you might suspect.)

The first hint of difficulty lay in the most restricted character set to date, merely letters and numbers, no punctuation whatsoever. This thoughtfully provides bad guys huge hints: “Psst. Save time, fellas. Don’t bother testing the lock with those difficult oddball characters.”

The next clue… You know those personal identifying questions in case you forget your password? Questions like naming your favorite cheese or your first juvenile parole officer? These questions mask some of the greatest risks in computerdom. Anyone who knows the least bit about you can guess the answers.

Worse, I’ve encountered sites that provide convenient drop-down menu answers, a selection of eight or so choices. One of the most popular questions with a handy menu is, “What’s your favorite color?”

Presumably this helps the spelling-challenged, but what a gift to bad guys. Immediately black-hat hackers rule out black and white, rarely anyone’s favorites. That leaves six or eight choices, hardly a burden for the least capable password cracker. They need not guess if they notice the blue shirts and blue cell phone cover ordered on Amazon and now appearing in your latest Facebook pose.

Moral: Never answer a question with a menu choice.

Orange County registration questions
Orange County Registration Questions
 Your Government at Work

At left, notice the personally identifiable questions from the aforementioned county agency. Anyone with the slightest knowledge about you can guess the answers. Anyone who doesn’t know you, can easily google your name, learning where you attended high school, your favorite team, your pets, and your mother’s maiden name.

What can you do about it?

Don’t play the game.

First, of course, avoid Q&A with drop-down menus. That’s a given.

If the web page doesn’t feature drop-down menus, you can answer your favorite color of yellow, orange, or red with “sweet cream banana pie yellow”, “fancy freckle-farm fulvous fantasy,” or “notorious red dye number 2”.

If you know French, Spanish, or Romanian, you might utilize that knowledge, perhaps in combination with the verbose suggestion above. Answer your favorite color as ‘rouge’, ‘rojo’, or ‘roșu’. If you don’t know a foreign language, try Pig Latin, e.g, ‘edray’ or ‘ellowyay’.

But I never could abide by the rules. There’s an easier way than such hard-to-remember replies.

You can boost security if you make your answers– every answer– a non sequitur, a nonsense phrase. Remembering will be easier if you use the same response, such as “None of your damn business.” For example:
© BBB
Favorite author?
None of your damn business.
Favorite color?
None of your damn business.
Favorite team?
None of your damn business.
Web sites like Apple’s recognize and object when an answer is repeated while populating a questionnaire. One solution is to exactly echo the question with leading or trailing words. For example, “Favorite author?” can be answered with, “My favorite author is none of your damn business,” or more simply, “Stuff my favorite author,” and “Stuff my favorite team,” etc.

Most importantly, choose a method that fits your style, then keep that information to yourself. Not playing by their dictates helps keep your data safer.

Don’t play the game.

Make up your own rules.

Password Security Question

Q. What’s your favorite security question?

A. ______________________________

17 February 2019

Surviving the Byte of the Cobra, part 1

by Leigh Lundin

Shibboleths and Shinola

As you may know, I spent years computer consulting for major corporations. I developed low regard for the so-called security found in many businesses, banks and brokerage houses, and lesser government agencies. Many so-called safety ‘features’ introduce unintended vulnerabilities.

Stick with me today and tomorrow. I’ll show you a method or so to help plug one or two security holes and help protect yourself.

Just Say No

Recently, I found myself unable to create an on-line account with my insurance company. The business published no  password restrictions, so I started with something like §103NádražníBeržųStraße – I’m not kidding – I take the security of my most critical sites seriously. The system didn’t accept that, a big clue that password and privacy isn’t a high priority with them. I whittled away diacriticals and then the leading special character §, but still nothing. After reduction to a plain vanilla password, and still no access I contacted customer service, asking how to solve the problem.

Naturally the customer service lady wouldn’t put me in direct touch with IT, the people who should know. She spent roughly 15 minutes piecing together the requirements: no more than ten characters from a measly set of the 62 alphanumeric characters plus underscore and hyphen.
“You’re kidding,” I said.

“What do you mean?”

“Those are the weakest password requirements I’ve come across in a long time.”

“Oh no, sir. We’ve never been hacked, so we’re very pleased.”

“You mean you haven’t drawn the attention of hackers.” The more restrictions placed on passwords, the easier for miscreants to breach the walls.

I could feel her bristle through the phone line. “Our staff understands our needs very well, I’m sure.”

Uh-huh. I thought dryly. They could withstand a concerted attack for, well, hundreds of seconds.
The only safe solution was not to use their on-line ‘service’ at all. In the future, what little information I might need will come by telephone and US mail.

It’s 1980, No Pasting Allowed

Ever encounter a web site that won’t allow you to paste in your password? Sure you have, and it’s frustrating as hell. Worse, it adds vulnerabilities rather than resolves them.

Years ago, some misguided ‘expert’ decided password paste prevention sounded pretty cool, and lo, he advised others about his really cool hypothesis. It turned out wrong, dead wrong.

Preventing pasting discourages visitors from using long, complex passwords, prevents utilizing password managers, and makes it easy for cracking hardware and software ‘keyloggers’– to monitor what you type in. Even the task group within NIST, the US National Institute of Standards and Technology, advises against disabling password pasting.

Clearly a number of corporations didn’t get the memo. What can a trapped user do? A few suggestions come to mind.

The web page may disable pasting keyboard shortcut but not disable the menu paste entry. This occurs often enough, it’s worth trying first.

A second possibility is to temporarily disable JavaScript. After doing it a couple of times, it doesn’t take long, certainly less time than blindly typing in a long string. Simply bring up the web page. When you reach the field that won’t let you paste, disable JavaScript by invoking Preferences, click Disable JavaScript in the Security or Privacy tabs, paste your password, and immediately re-engage JavaScript. (Note: This doesn’t work with Firefox, which won’t let users disable JavaScript.)

If that fails, try to resist using a short and simple password, one reason why this disagreeable ‘feature’ is so dangerous.

When It’s All About Length

I came across a bug in a popular web site. The registration web page happily accepted my lengthy password, but would not allow me to sign on.

I learned the site used an unadvertised maximum limit of 20 characters. Further investigation concluded it didn’t limit or validate the length of the password string. The registration page stored a function of the first 20 characters, no matter how many were entered. The sign-on page also didn’t check the limit of characters, but simply compared its value with the stored value, resulting in a mismatch.

In other words, I tried to register AbCdEfGhIjKlMnOpQrStUvWxYz, but the program stored AbCdEfGhIjKlMnOpQrSt. When I tried to sign on, the page compared the stored AbCdEfGhIjKlMnOpQrSt with the sign-on value of AbCdEfGhIjKlMnOpQrStUvWxYz and failed, a stupid programming error. (Engineers will note I’m grossly simplifying a hash encryption function.) Bad, bad program design.

© BBB
Mine’s Smaller Than Yours

A web site’s failure to validate the length of a password allowed me to pull off a silly little trick of questionable value. In the early days of the Web before it came under attack by Russian crackers and North Korean ransomware, I’d registered at a particular web site with a short password.

Years later, alarmed at attacks occurring worldwide, the site instituted stricter registration policies, including using lengthy password minimums double the length mine. They validated new password lengths at registration, but not during sign-on.

The site wasn’t critical for me, which led to an idiosyncratic decision to keep my old, deprecated password. A brute-force attacker would likely note  updated site rules that passwords must run at least twelve characters in length. If so, my dinky little password ought to sail under their radar. (And if not, I could live without the site.)

Tomorrow… Cobras and those pesky and perilous personal mystery questions.

03 February 2019

SleuthSayers versus Porch Pirates

porch pirate, package thief
by Leigh Lundin

My friend Thrush orders so much stuff on-line, Amazon built a warehouse near his residence. Last year a couple of deliveries went missing, odd computer parts of use only to him. Records showed they were placed at the door, but he didn’t receive them. That tends to defeat the goal of internet shopping of not leaving the house.

After this occurrence, I encountered the term ‘porch pirates’. It turns out some people make a habit of spotting deliveries, sometimes stalking FedEx and UPS trucks, to snatch parcels from the stoop before the owner can retrieve them.

Reports have surfaced of deliverymen who were too lazy or timid to dash through the rain or snow or sleet or hail or gloom of night for a delivery and simply recorded packages as delivered. Fortunately such skulduggery is rare. Snatch and grab is much more common.

Authorities seldom involve themselves in porch thievery. It’s pretty much up to the homeowner to police his parcels. A number of surveillance cameras have caught the unwashed ungodly in the act of larceny and posted the results on YouTube. Sometimes customers get their goods back, sometimes they don’t.

Mark Rober’s Glitter Bomb
Mark Rober’s Glitter Bomb
Glitter Bomb in Action
Glitter Bomb in Action
Catching Crooks with Science, Science, Science…

NASA design engineer Mark Rober suffered the loss of a purloined package. When police refused help, he took matters into his own hands.

“It’s not rocket science,” he thought. And then, “Wait… Maybe it is.”

He built what has become known as the glitter bomb. The video explains better than I. Non-geeks might want to skip a couple of minutes past the two minute spot, but then we get to see the machine in action.

Apparently the public can now buy numerous, dumbed-down copycat versions of the original glorious glitter grenade. Jaireme Barrow’s company sells another device, a 12-gauge shotgun blank that explodes when stolen. Consider patronizing inventors for your porch pirates entertainment.

SleuthSayers to the Rescue

But wait, I thought. What if SleuthSayers built their own lanai larcenist Crime Stopper? What if we readers and writers cooked up a sadistic surprise for blatant banditos? In particular, why not a corpse, a bloodied, battered, putrefying remains of a body? Left amongst the severed parts might lie a note, maybe ransom, maybe threatening.

Not a real corpse, of course, but a masterpiece facsimile to gut grabbers of goods. Surely our audience could come up with a masterpiece of vile verisimilitude to make a vandal vomit. (My alliteration seems to run amuck today.)

So I’m thinking Eve could bring her varied knowledge and experience to bear as project leader. Rob and David provide research and guidance. Mary and Melodie’s hospital trauma experience might aid artists. Fran brings us cosmetician knowledge, how to make up a corpse. Surely Paul knows Hollywood makeup experts. Who are the artists among us? Janice for sure, maybe Michael or Lawrence? We need slightly mad writers to pen a frightening ransom note, surely Steve, Stephen and Barb. Brian’s exposure to the world of teens could prove helpful in choice of packaging– Xbox or iPad, none of that fuddy-duddy Dell stuff. I picture RT and O’Neil procuring a skeleton, not a real one but a classroom model smuggled out of Quantico. We’d rely upon John’s computer skills to man the 3D printer, stamping out faux phalanges and fingers, tarsals and teeth. What about our readers?

Flesh texture strikes me as a problem, although gross enough remains might deter curious pokes and probes. Say we want to apply tissue and rancid adipose upon a 3D-printed or purchased skull. Would a slab of jowl bacon be kosher? Or is there a plastic or polymer clay that firms a little but doesn’t become hard? Or would silicon work? Enquiring minds want to know.

Sony Aibo
What about eyes? The inner strata of decomposing onions or leek bulbs in eye sockets scare me thinking about it. What about rotting brain matter? Would dyed rice pudding or tapioca work? I never liked that stuff anyway, that icky larvae textures. Ugh. Who are the disturbed chemists among us? Enquiring minds want to know.

Let’s say O’Neil and RT settle upon packaging from an Aibo, Sony’s expensive robot dog. The team packs the diabolical creation in the box. We apply fake labels, set it out on the stoop under the watchful eye of hidden, internet cameras, and it’s good to go.

And then… and then…

Nefarious package jackers arrive. The gluttonous, greedy gomers help themselves to the heavy box, knowing Aibo’s a $1700 toy. They wrestle it to their get-away van. Jostling activates John’s cameras and GPS. O’Neil and RT track the package to a suspected neighborhood crack house where they find two men and a woman on their butts, flattened against the walls, shrieking in terror.

Authorities commit the traumatized thieves to the hospital’s mental health ward for observation. USPS and Amazon report a 13% reduction in package theft. SleuthSayers head for the nearest bar.

Who’s in?

A Hysterical History of Horror

Terror on Church Street monkish mascot

We must avoid the consequences undergone by my friend Robbie. Robbie Pallard worked for Disney as a designer when Terror on Church Street opened a downtown Orlando attraction, a block-long haunted two-storey mansion on steroids. This house of horror’s ghoulish attics and cellars bulged with cruelty and crime. A ghostly graveyard covered the results from its mad scientist labs.

ToCS picked Robbie to design their sets, mostly scenes from infamous horror movies. He tapped me to build their web site and a couple of props.

Their choice of Robbie wasn’t accidental– his reputation preceded him. He was once commissioned to decorate and stage a vignette for an upcoming Halloween party at a fancy, upscale house.

Sometime after completion, a visitor comes to the door. Getting no response from the doorbell, the nosy nelly peeks through windows. Moments later, the hysterical busybody phones police, screaming.

SWAT bursts in. They encounter a gut-turning scene… a tortured body hanging from the staircase. Underneath, a chainsaw rests on plastic sheeting. Cops race to track down the owners; the owners race to track down Robbie. He explains, owners explain, disbelief ensues, hilarity does not. Cops go home. Busybody and news trucks go home disappointed no murder occurred.

The Demise of Terror

Terror on Church Street suffered a sad demise. Once the site of McCrory's Ten-Cent Store at 135 South Orange Avenue, the colorful and popular attraction provided employment for numerous students, vendors, and goths who could work in their natural habiliments without drawing personal criticism.

Terror on Church Street poster
Robbie Pallard in action
The attraction grew too popular for its own good. The building was a historical site, registered and protected by the local Historical Society. Unfortunately it sat on a very valuable square of land in one of America’s most popular cities. The shame that happened next made the nightly news.

In violation of the state’s Sunshine Law, the mayor and cronies met after hours in a closed door session. In an after-hours coup, they authorized demolition of the building. Wrecking ball cranes and bulldozers that had been standing by, were already moving into the city. Through the night, they flattened the building to rubble. By dawn, nothing was left of the building but shattered bricks. The Historical Society was furious a protected building had been destroyed in a nighttime fait accompli.

The mayor justified leveling the structure without due procedure by characterizing it as an immiment danger to the public, requiring immediate action. That morning, Code Enforcement was laughing, noting ToCS was one of the most inspected buildings downtown, regularly visited by building department officials and almost daily by fire inspectors.

The Historical Society wrung its hands; the destruction was complete. Within days, construction began on a $20-million tower. Political machinations constituted the real terror on Church Street.

20 January 2019

Florida News– Year in Review

by Leigh Lundin

Florida postcard
It’s been quite a while since the last posting vis-à-vis the madness that constitutes Florida. Ask Dave Barry. Ask Carl Hiaasen. Ask Fark.com, which awarded Florida its own tag, the only state to have earned that, er, particular honor. It’s time to review this past year.

Scott-Free

Tallahassee, FL.  Since we last spoke, our crooked Governor Rick Scott has now become our crooked Senator Rick Scott. I use the word ‘crook’ accurately and advisedly. After all, this is a crime site, not a political blog, and from a criminal standpoint, Rick Scott has made us all proud. In the land of crooks, cons, and craziness, how did he accomplish such singular honor?

Scott engineered the most massive Medicare/Medicaid fraud in history. After fines of $1.7-billion– that’s ‘billion’ with a ‘B’– he left the lucrative health care business a very wealthy man. In 2010, he turned his jaundiced sights on a fresh target– politics– where he outspent the Florida Republican party to win the nomination, and then outspent the Florida Democratic party to win the governorship. Now he becomes an unbecoming senator. Pass the fermented orange juice, please.

Reptilian Brain

St. Augustine, FL.  Sheesh. Stay out of the pool if you can’t tell a crocodile from an alligator. But wait, there’s more: The dude’s accused of  jumping in while wearing Crocs. A reptilian brain trumps no brain at all.

Leave Fluffy Alone!

Clearwater, FL.  Where’s that crocodile when we need him? A year and a half earlier at Orlando Executive Airport, an alligator took a bite out of an airplane wing. That’s not unusual, but this plane was in flight.

Tuff Mothers

Sarasota, FL.  My tiny 5-foot nothing mom was a fearsome spitfire, but these bitches fight with broken glass. It’s that reptilian brain, see.

Bouncing’s Not Only for Checks

Jacksonville, FL.  It’s not funny. Police are hunting a masked man who beat a dozing laundromat patron with a pogo stick. Was it a lack of coordination or the extra starch? Next Up: Assault with a deadly unicycle.
Note:  When I first heard this story, I chuckled in disbelief at the peculiarity of Florida. Later I learned the victim died from the oddball attack. It’s wise to remember even the goofiest crimes can have dire real-world consequences. To my knowledge, police have not located the perpetrator nor know a reason for the attack.

Extra Starch Again: It’s the Carbs

Yulee, FL. Stick a fork in it,” a North Florida man took seriously. He stabbed a poor woman in the head for undercooking his potato. What an idiot. Think she’ll ever bake a spud for him again? Lucky for him, Nassau County jail serves all the fries he can eat.

Damn, the Driver Missed

Jacksonville, FL.  Why chase ambulances when clients come to your door?

No Relation to Catherine the Great

Citra, FL.  I’m… I’m without words… and creeped out. I’ve heard of kinky pony girls, but this bizarre bozo leaves me speechless.

Kill ’em with Kindness

Milton, FL.  Can’t say our bad guys don’t wield a sense of humor. In Santa Rosa County, a wannabe killer scrawled ‘kindness’ on the blade of his machete and attacked his neighbor. The real shocker is this product of Florida education spelt the word correctly.

It’s the Carbs, Man

Lake City, FL.  Let’s close on a sweet, feel-good story ya gotta love. Cops rescued a stolen Krispy Kreme Doughnut truck and about a zillion maple-glazed, which they (munch, munch) shared with homeless folks. (urp, ’scuse me)

Orlando, FL.  An Orlando officer showed considerably less humor when he complained to a call-in talk show about that stereotype of police and doughnuts. A radio engineer isolated the background noise and realized he was phoning from a Dunkin’ Donuts.

06 January 2019

Chasing Pennies

by Leigh Lundin

bank vault
I've written about exploits in banking and brokerage fraud with further articles to follow. Bad banking practices don’t feature well in my write-ups. Institutions change only when they’re forced to.

Recently my fraud expertise touched upon the personal. A good friend fell victim to gaping holes in one of New York’s largest financial institutions, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.

Lily is smart, pretty, and unattached. Two out of three is pretty good, but she means to win the trifecta. She doesn’t advertise, but merely hopes to attract the right kind of guy. She appears on social media: Facebook, Pinterist, and a singles’ site that’s been around some thirteen years, MeetMe.com where she met an interesting fellow.

Telling the good from the bad isn’t always easy. By the time our malefactor (male factor or dirtbag are also suitable) stepped into the light, he already knew critical pieces of information about Lily: her real name (thanks to odious Facebook requirements), where she’s lived, family relationships, and importantly– her birthday.

MeetMe.com
For a few weeks, ‘Antonio Sanchez’ from ‘New Jersey’ wooed our lass on MeetMe. He didn’t do anything crass like ask her bank account number or credit card information; thanks to Chase’s security ‘features’, he didn’t need to.

As Thanksgiving approached, Lily traveled across the country, stopping to visit relatives in Greenfield, Indiana, home of another Lilly, the famed pharmaceuticals company. Our heroine happened to check her bank account and found it unexpectedly fourteen hundred fifty dollars richer.

Lily, not only smart but honest, sought clarification at the Greenfield branch of Chase. Greenfield couldn’t fathom the problem.

bogus check 1 (808869)
check 1 of 6 #808869
“You put money into your account in the early hours of the morning. Looks like you needed it. What’s the problem?”

“I didn’t deposit anything.”

“But you did.” Greenfield regarded her suspiciously. “You’re saying you didn’t?”

“Exactly. I didn’t do any such thing.”

“Well, lucky you. Someone likes you well enough to put coins in your account.”

*click* Instantly Lily knew who’d made the deposit.

A couple of hours later, the situation reached me. By then, other deposits had appeared. Curiously, monies were rapidly shifting among Lily’s three accounts. My fraud alert alarms clanged.

“If you make a withdrawal,” I advised, “calculate only what you own to the penny and not a cent more.”

“What’s the problem?” friends asked. “A handsome guy sending Lily money? Does he have any brothers?”

I spoke adamantly. “There is no money, no boyfriend in New Jersey, no gold at the end of the rainbow.” When I explained the con, Lily agreed to join me for a visit to the Indiana State Police.

Indiana State Police
The man manning the reception desk told us all detectives were out of the office and wouldn’t return until the next day. Lily asked if she could file a report.

The grizzled trooper brought forms out to us in the lobby. He stood by as Lily tried to explain the situation.

He interrupted her. “A guy giving you money is no crime. No crime, you can’t file a report.”

I said, “There is no money. It’s a con…”

The trooper threw up his palm in a ‘Talk to the hand’ gesture. Cops are trained to seize and maintain control, even when counterproductive. He went on to lecture Lily, not so much accusing her of wasting police time, but of being silly.

“May I explain?” I said as levelly as I could. “There is no money, only fake deposits. He will use that false balance to pay himself.”

The cop paused, considering. “Wouldn’t work,” he said. “If I deposit a check, I have to wait a few days to withdraw funds.”

“That’s why he’s moving money around her accounts. Some banks, perhaps including Chase, lose track of new deposits as they’re moved around. The technique is called seasoning, losing the new deposit tag and making the money look like it’s aged on account.”

“I’m a road warrior,” said the trooper. “I’m not up on these things. Yeah, I’ll have a detective phone you.”

Virtually next door to State Police Headquarters, we’d noticed a Chase branch. Lily made the wisest decision of the day, visiting the bank for an update.

The young woman listened attentively. She quickly grasped the situation. “Oh my God,” she said. “I received a notice exactly like yours of a deposit early in the morning. I need to check my own account before I go home today.”

Together, the three of us discovered additional deposits and further shifting around of money. By then, funds had been used to buy the first Western Union money order made out to an unknown and very foreign name.

“Let me guess,” I said. “The money’s sent to Nigeria?”

“If Lily didn’t give this jerk her personal information,” the young lady said, “how did he get into her account?”

I explained one hypothesis. I’m a vocal critic of the so-called security questions routinely forced upon on-line customers. “What city were you born in?” “What was the name of your first pet?” “What’s your favorite team?” “What’s your favorite color?”

With the slightest information, bad guys find it ludicrously easy to guess the answers. The favorite color question often includes a helpful drop-down menu of eight colors. No one chooses black or white, so a malefactor can guess the answer in six tries or less.

The young branch manager rang the fraud department. She posed the same question to them, who replied “There are so many ways to breach an account…”

bogus check 2 (808870)
check 2 of 6 #808870
The bank gave us copies of the checks. One peculiarity came to light. Chase said it appeared the Nigerian repeatedly deposited the same two checks over and over, fooling Chase and highlighting another flaw in their security, a defective filter for detecting duplicate deposits.

Chase froze Lily’s accounts, leaving her stranded without travel money in the midst of a cross-country trip. But wait, we’re not done.

Lily awoke the next morning, finding her accounts unlocked and a half dozen or so deposits burgeoning her balances.

Lily phoned Chase to let them know further monkey business was afoot in her reactivated accounts. They quickly closed the window and her accounts, again cutting off her funds.



Big banks and little people, comes now the pathetic part. Instead of expressing gratitude for Lily’s quick action of notifying them of fraud, Chase blames Lily for the leaking of money from the bank. Their stance is that Lily either worked with the malfeasant Nigerian to defraud Chase, or at the very least handed over her account information to the bad guy. As you now know, that doesn’t have to happen. All it takes is sloppy banking.

Besides seizing Lily’s bank balance, Chase now demands another $600 in compensation for their losses. Good move, Chase: encourage honest citizens to rush in to report fraud made possible by your own shortcomings.

It’s a great day for banking. Have you had similar experiences?

01 January 2019

Crime Scene Comix Case 2019-01, SleepWalker

by Velma

Sometimes crime turns funny, especially when dumb criminals are involved. Sometimes creative minds view crime in skewed ways. Today, experience two minutes of mad mayhem.

Meet Shifty, a crook who looks like a Minion in zebra stripes. Although he always wears his mask and prisoner jersey, no member of the public pays him the least attention.

Shifty can be found in the Future Thought channel of YouTube– please visit. Here's an example of Shifty in action.


How's that for crime cinema? Hope you enjoyed the show.

31 December 2018

The World Revolved and We Resolved

Happy New Year!  To celebrate the occasion some of the regular mob here decided to offer a resolution for you to ponder.  Feel free to contribute your own in the comments.

It has been an interesting year  at SleuthSayers and we hope it has been one for you as well.  We wish you a prosperous and criminous 2019.

Steve Hockensmith. My new year's resolution is to write the kind of book that I would really enjoy reading but which will also have a decent chance of finding an enthusiastic publisher...which might be the equivalent of resolving to lose 30 pounds by only eating your favorite pizza.

Eve Fisher. Mine is to break my addiction to distracting myself on the internet.  


John M. Floyd.  
1. Read more new authors.
2. Write more in different genres.  
3. Let my manuscripts “cool off” longer before sending them in. 
4. Read more classics.
5. Search out some new markets. 
6. Cut back on semicolons.
7. Go to more conferences.
8. Go to more writers’ meetings.  
9. Get a Twitter account.
10. Try submitting to a contest now and then.  This one’s low on my list—I avoid contests like I avoid blue cheese—but I probably should give it a try. (Contests, not blue cheese.)   

Paul D. Marks. I resolve to watch fewer murder shows on Discovery ID and murder more people on paper.

Barb Goffman.  My new year's resolution is to finish all my projects early. Anyone who knows me is likely rolling with laughter now because finishing on time is usually a push for me. Heck I'm often writing my SleuthSayers column right before the deadline, and I'm probably sending in this resolution later than desired too. But at least I'm consistent!

Janice Law. I resolve to start reading a lot of books- and only finish the good ones.

Stephen Ross.  My New Year resolution is to FINALLY finish a science fiction short story I started two years ago, but have yet to think of a decent ending!

Steve Liskow.  I love short stories but find them very difficult to write. I've resolved that I will write and submit four new short stories in 2019.  My other resolution is to lose 15 pounds. That will be tricky since I don't know an English bookie...

Art Taylor. My resolutions are pretty regular—by which I mean not just ordinary but recurrent; for example, I’m redoubling my resolution to write first and to finish projects—keeping on track with some stories and a novel currently in the works. I fell short on my big reading resolution of 2018 (reading aloud the complete Continental Op stories—still working on it!) but I did keep up with reading a list of novels, stories, and essays set in boarding schools (related to my novel-in-progress) and that’s a resolution that’s continuing into 2019 as well, with several books recently added to the list, including The Night of the Twelfth by Michael Gilbert and A Question of Proof by Nicholas Blake. I know these might seem more like “things to do” than “resolutions” but that’s how I plan, I guess! For a real resolution, how about this one? Be nicer to our cats. (They’re demanding.) 

Robert Lopresti.  Back in 2012 I won the Black Orchid Novella Award for a story about a beat poet named Delgardo, set in October 1958.  I am currently editing his next adventure, which takes place in November 1958.  In 2019 I want to write "Christmas Dinner," which will be set in... oh, you guessed.

Melodie Campbell. This fall, we found out my husband has widespread cancer.  He isn't yet retirement age, so this has been a shocking plot twist.  In the book of our lives together, we have entered a new chapter.

That metaphor has become my new resolution, in that it is a new way of looking at life in all its beauty and sorrow.  I am a writer.  I have come to view my life as a book.  There are many chapters...growing up, meeting one's mate, raising children, seeing them fly the nest.  Even the different careers I've tried have become chapters in this continuing book.  Some chapters are wonderful, like the last five years of my life.  We don't want them to end.  Others are more difficult, but even those will lead to new chapters, hopefully brighter ones. 
May your book be filled with many chapters, and the comforting knowledge that many more are to come.

Leigh Lundin.  Each year my resolution is to make no resolutions.  A logical fallacy probably is involved.

R.T. Lawton.  I tend not to make New Year’s resolutions anymore. Why? So as to not disappoint myself. At my age, there are fewer things I feel driven to change, and for those circumstances I do feel driven about, I make that decision and attempt regardless of the time of year.

For instance, there is the ongoing weight concern, but I hate dieting or restricting myself from temptation. Other than working out, my idea of a dieting program these days is not using Coke in my evening cocktails. Instead, I’ll merely sip the Jack Daniels or Vanilla Crown Royal straight or on the rocks. Not many calories in ice. On the days I gain a pound (weigh-ins every morning), I can usually guess why. On the days I lose weight, I have no idea why. My best weight loss (usually five pounds at a crack), mostly comes from some health problem I did not anticipate and which involved minimal eating for a few days. Naturally, I’m eating well these days, so we’re back to the temptation thing.

As for any writing and getting published resolutions, that’s a constantly renewable action, however, I can only control the writing and submitting part. The getting published part is up to other people and beyond my control, except for e-publishing.

For those of you making New Year’s resolutions, I wish you much success and hope you meet your goal. And, to spur you on with your commitment, let me know in June how well you did.

Have a great New Year!

23 December 2018

A War on Christmas?

by Leigh Lundin

When I was a wee lad with a jolly red nose (‘jolly’ = ‘drippy’), radio evangelists fumed that Xmas was disrespectful and probably blasphemous. Campaigns raged: “Help keep the Christ in Christmas.”

Good Sunday school teachers like Barbara Ritchie, Phyllis Miller, and my own mother quietly debunked the notion Xmas was sacrilegious. A War against Christmas sold radio spots and little more. But wait… Xmas? It does sound irreligious.

X, symbolically used by early Christians, referred to the first Greek letter of Χριστός or Christós, ‘the anointed’. See how easily you can read Greek?

Christ(os) in Greek
Ch Χ chi
r ρ rho
i ι iota
s σ sigma
t τ tau
o ό omikron
s ς sigma

Baby, It's Cold Outside record
And yet…

A battle against Christmas may not be waging at the city gates, but a war against up to a dozen Christmas songs comes as no hoax. This present day problem derives from humor-deficient, history-challenged, literal-minded Scrooges bereft of feeling of an era. Such misery misers seem prone to misconstrue meanings of phrases used at the time they were written… and understood.

A current target is the Academy Award winning ‘Baby, It's Cold Outside,’ overshadowed by the spectre of rape. Peculiar because Frank Loesser wrote the song to sing with his wife, Lynn Garland, to wrap up at parties in their flat in New York City’s Navarro Hotel, and suggest to guests it was time to depart into the night.

Once upon a time, it was de rigueur for a lady to protest. It wasn’t becoming for a woman to openly desire s-e-x. As World War II entered its final awful year in 1944, audiences understood the playful ‘call and response’ nature of the song, dialogue that would guide modern couples through a relatively repressive era, and help society understand sensuality, passion, and sexuality are healthful and natural. Loesser and Garland sang the song to hint they’d like romance time alone. The song made it into the 1949 MGM movie, Neptune’s Daughter.

I saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus record
The so-called date-rape drug slipped into her drink? Eleven years after Prohibition, it’s almost certainly whiskey in the eggnog, Irish in the coffee. Sheesh, get a life.

While we’re on the topic, let’s deal with another maligned song. The ‘Mommy Kissing Santa Claus’ isn’t carrying on an affair with Father Christmas. He’s the daddy, see, her husband who… Oh, never mind. If one has to explain it…

And yet…

Speaking of songs on the hitlist, ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ offends some people with claims of sexism and animal cruelty and, according to at least one blog, slavery.

The lyrics published in England date back to 1780. They probably derived from a considerably earlier composition in France. The arrangement we hear today, including the drawn-out “five gold rings,” was written in 1909 by British composer and baritone Frederic Austin.

Twelve Days of Christmas record (Como)
The ballad tells us a few things seemingly forgotten in an urban world. For one thing, a-milking is not the same as a-lactating. C’mon, get a life. Households often kept chickens or geese, and a cow, goat, or even sheep.

The song reminds us Christmas once encompassed twelve days plus the Feast of the Epiphany. I’ve discussed this before: The twelve days doesn’t culminate on December 25th, it commences. In other words, the 25th of December begins the twelve days of Christmas, which ends on the 5th of January. ‘Little Christmas’ follows on 6 January, also called Three Kings Day. Yay! That means it’s okay to leave your decorations up until at least the 6th of January.

The Twelve Days of Christmas
date day gift per day totals
Dec 25 1 st 1 partridge pear tree 1 1
26 2 nd 2 turtle doves 3 4
27 3 rd 3 French hens 6 10
28 4 th 4 calling birds 10 20
29 5 th 5 gold rings 15 35
30 6 th 6 geese a-laying 21 56
31 7 th 7 swans a-swimming 28 84
Jan 01 8 th 8 maids a-milking 36 120
02 9 th 9 ladies dancing 45 165
03 10 th 10 lords a-leaping 55 220
04 11 th 11 pipers piping 66 286
05 12 th 12 drummers drumming 78 364
06
Feast of the Epiphany 364 total

Victorian angel
The Twelve Days carol includes a little mathematical curiosity. The count of gifts each day is cumulative. The recipient doesn’t merely receive two turtledoves on the second day, but two doves plus an additional partridge. On the third day, six presents arrive– 3 hens, 2 doves, and 1 more partridge. Thus for the season, a total of twelve partridges are handed over, as are twenty-two doves, thirty French hens, etc.

When all the gifts are counted, the grand total comes to 364… one for every day of the year minus one. What day came up short? I have no idea.

A war on Christmas? Tis a season of giving, a season of sharing, and a season of singing. Christmas can be enjoyed by anyone, no matter your religion.

Help keep the ❤︎ in Christmas.

16 December 2018

No Good Deed
Goes Unpublished

by Leigh Lundin

I detest being lied to, I really do. Worse, I sometimes can’t tell when I’m lied to. Take the following case in which a tenant spun fanciful stories I found all too believable. Eventually, her tales grew so fantastic, they gave even me pause. The fact women could see through her when I couldn’t gave me greater appreciation. It’s undoubtedly the reason female defendants prefer all-male (and very gullible) juries.

Come to think of it, I had a problem with a previous tenant, a stripper who’d wrap males around her little finger. Those problems came to a close when a female deputy, immune to her abundant charms, took her in hand.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, I discovered my internal lie-detector is broken.

typcail landlord (© Taylor Swift)
Typical Landlord
The Never-Ending (First) Storey

After 22 months, I’ve finally succeeded in an eviction. Almost… the deputy hasn’t yet executed the Writ of Possession, so it’s still possible the tenant may pull off another coup.

Part of it’s my own fault– I was out of state for lengthy periods. The tenant fought vacating the property with everything she had. I’d been contracting kitchen and bathroom renovations– new oak cabinets, new granite counters renters might find hard to damage, and new flooring. This coincided with Hurricane Irma (life in Florida’s defined by hurricanes) when subcontractors proved hard to find.

Peculiarly, replacing cabinets and counters requires four distinct kinds of workmen and ne’er the twain shall meet. Cabinet installers won’t work with wiring, plumbing, or (shudder) cabinet tops. The granite and marble people won’t touch electrical, plumbing, or God forbid, cabinets. Needless to say, electricians and plumbers don’t handle the other stuff either.

The tenant disliked that I was permanently removing the garbage disposal, a practice I began long ago in response to abuse by renters. Mats of hair and buckets of bacon grease don’t work well inside pipes… and disposals. Tenant insisted a garbage grinder, along with air, water, and cable television, constituted an essential human right.

We also underwent a conflict with the dishwasher. I don’t know why, but more than one tenant eschews using dishwashers. The machines need to be used every week or so to keep seals moist and the mechanism working. In this case, the tenant wanted to store dishes in her machine and complained about water pooled around the central pump.

I explained that was normal; she disagreed. She argued it was a health hazard. What might happen, she said, if water should leap out on the floor. I know, I know– weird, huh. I stated I’d much rather she follow the terms of the lease by changing air conditioning filters once a month so our new a/c wouldn’t break down and maybe dump water on the floor.

As the lease was expiring, new cabinets went in, new counters went in, wiring was finished, and new plumbing… never happened. Plumber A reported he tried several times to schedule an appointment and she refused. Plumber B reported he tried several times to schedule an appointment and she refused. WTF? as the blogger wrote.

typical tenant victim (© Taylor Swift)
Typical Tenant Victim
Hook, Line, and Sink

Most strangely, the original kitchen sink and its new faucet went missing. Oh, said the tenant, the cabinet people put it on the curb for trash pickup. WTF? The tenant claimed installers wouldn’t put discarded cabinets on the curb, but they specifically toted out the sink they were supposed to reuse?

We wouldn’t do that, said the cabinet folks. We wouldn’t do that either, said the granite people. Both said the tenant told them not to reuse the sink and faucet.

Belatedly sensing I’d been lied to, I asked the tenant if her boyfriend/caretaker took the sink and faucet for his flea market business. Lo, a miracle happened. Said boyfriend found a matching sink complete with identical faucet on a neighborhood curb and brought it home, too late, of course, to be inset and sealed by the counter workmen.

Trashing in Public

The homeowner’s association complained about junk in the front yard. The cabinet installers said the tenant told them not to put the old cabinets and refuse on the curb. Once again, WTF?

The tenant told me HUD Section 8 called in her friends in Code Enforcement, aka the decorating police. That seemed peculiar since the house recently passed inspection predicated upon finishing the plumbing.

The tenant told me the electric company turned off the power because her electrical cords were sparking, and oh yes, she needed new light bulbs. I explained I kindly replaced bulbs during my visits, but electrical cords, light bulbs, and taking out the trash were the tenant’s responsibility, as explained in the lease. The tenant disagreed.

In fact, the tenant disagreed so much she stopped paying rent. Ma’am, I said, you can’t live here if you don’t pay rent. The tenant disagreed.

The tenant announced because I’ve been such a bad landlord, light bulbs didn’t work, the electrical cord for her television didn’t work, the garbage disposal didn’t work and, thanks to unfinished plumbing, the kitchen sink didn’t work. Oh, and according to her, Code Enforcement was coming after me for all of the above plus piles of trash in the yard.

“You try make me move,” she said. “I own your ass. My friends want me sue you,” she said, “but I tell them you’re a nice man. Bad landlord, but nice man.”

Tenant for months refused to take my calls. Tenant also refused the property manager’s calls. The property manager, a wise woman I trust, told me the tenant had been lying her ass off to me.

I posted 3-day pay or vacate notices and 7-day notices to cure. The latter included an extensive list of property and lease violations, much of it related to her boyfriend/caretaker wrecking the back yard and cutting down trees from a lovely grove to further his lawnmower, appliance, and car engine repair business.

BTK, Dennis Rader
Typical Code Enforcement Officer
Dennis Rader
Tenant complained I’m such a bad landlord, the air conditioner no longer worked. She claimed Section 8 yet again called in Code Enforcement because shower heads went missing. Likewise, electrical switch plates someway disappeared. A tiny corner of linoleum under the cabinets’ kickplate curled ever so minutely, constituting a dastardly dangerous hazard to life and limb. If I took her to court, she said she’d bring Code Enforcement, whom mortals fear more than Lord Voldemort on a bad hair day.

As a landlord, as a male, I’ve learned to be leery. My reasons not to visit an XX chromosome tenant alone are a little different from persnickety Mike Pence’s, but it pays to be cautious. This time I took my friend Geri. After that meeting, she said, “I’m too much of a Southern lady to say she’s lying, but she doesn’t have a Godly relationship with the truth.”

For the first time we learned Section 8 was paying for another apartment in a nice downtown building while the tenant simultaneously hung onto my property with all her devious might.

I’d divined two reasons the tenant refused to move. She’d piled the house full of her treasures from hoarding. The living room housed a half dozen washers and dryers from her boyfriend’s business, suggesting another primary reason for clinging to the property. Where could he house and practice his lawnmower and appliance repair business?

Geri, a teacher, figured out a third and possible principal reason. By keeping my address, the tenant was able to keep her girls in the well-regarded school next door, and not send them to the inner city school that went along with her new apartment. In Florida, enrolling children in schools outside the tax district is considered fraud.

The property manager, calling from a different phone number, made one last stab at getting the tenant out, specifying a cutoff date. The tenant refused but, armed with the our target date, phoned me the morning of.

“Are you really going to court today?”

“This afternoon, yes, I am. You have a final chance to leave quietly.”

Unsurprisingly, she declined, but phoned me minutes before I departed for the courthouse.

“I slipped and fell. The lawyers for the clinic want an initial $50,000 to treat me.”

“What? Where? How did you fall?”

“In the kitchen, that curled piece of linoleum.”

“How could your toe reach it? It’s under the cabinets. Did a seizure cause the fall? Wait… Lawyers for the clinic? Don’t you have Medicare or Medicaid?”

“Yes, but I no use it for this. I need $50,000.”

“Convenient it happens on the day I file the paperwork.”

“Did I say today? I mean recently, since I saw you last.”

“After you were asked to leave?”

“Um, maybe a year ago, yes, that’s it. You know my seizures cause memory problems.”

“Last year after your lease expired and you were supposed to move out?”

“I mean two years ago, yes, two years.”

Instead of filing that day, I made an appointment to see a lawyer. He said dryly, “A surprising number of slip ’n’ falls happen during evictions. If she persists, come back and see me.”

A-Courting We Will Go

Finally, I spent a small pot of money to fund the eviction in court. The clerk of court’s rules lay out four requirements a tenant must follow to contest an eviction.

My tenant did none of them.

Instead, she wrote a 37-page letter to the judge that was shielded from public view (including my own) under a lock called VoR… view on request. That meant I had to execute a number of steps including a notarized affidavit and then wait for the clerk to determine if I was a deserving lad allowed to read it. When I finally found I could peep at it, all I could download was the first page. (The judge later kindly explained the remaining 36 pages were made up of letters and notices from various government agencies.) Curiously, that first page contained yet another version of the slip ’n’ fall, this time in the bathroom on a wet floor caused by a missing shower head.

At the end of page 1, the tenant advanced an innovative argument that the landlord owes her money for taking care of the property for him.

The morning of the hearing, my friend Thrush suggested I drive by the property to photograph the tenant’s trash. To my surprise, a white cargo van and a large trailer sat parked in front, doors open for loading. Another friend snapped photos for me.

With friends and witnesses, Darlene and Geri, I girded our loins and set forth to wage righteous battle in the courthouse.

I hardly said a word. I didn’t need to.

The judge was a smart lady, very, very astute. She asked the tenant and her boyfriend/caretaker if they still lived at my rental address.

The tenant said no, she’d moved to a new apartment paid for by Section 8. The judge cocked an eye at me.

I said, “As we speak, Judge, a cargo van and extended trailer are loading goods from the house. I brought photos.”

The tenant hadn’t expected that. Quite unconscious of her previous contention, she proceeded to justify why she still lived at my address, mainly that I was a bad landlord but, she insisted, she didn’t live there.

“Did you give the landlord the keys?” asked the judge.

“No, I changed the locks. He’s a bad landlord. He won’t take our trash to the curb and…”

Time and again, the judge brought her back to the subject at hand. “So you do live there?”

“No, Your Honor, I just stay here so my girls can go to school. I keep it as my residence.” (Geri nailed the student residency issue.) “And Mr Leigh complains about our cutting trees down and he don’t want my boyfriend, I mean caretaker, working no more on cars and lawnmowers and he no fix my light bulbs and plumbing and he took away my disposal and I slip on the wet kitchen floor and I no wear my arm sling in public but I hurt my wrist and no use my Medicare so I call Code Enforcement who say he’s a bad landlord and…”

The tenant had just told yet another version of slip ’n’ fall. I wondered if the judge caught the differences between her testimony and the version she gave the judge in the letter. I need not have worried.

“Stop.” The judge gave the basketball timeout T-signal. “I find you do live there.”

“No, Your Honor, He’s mean to say that. I only…”

“Stop right there. I’m granting the plaintiff a Writ of Possession.”

“How long does that give me before I must move, Your Honor?” asked the tenant.

“Once a deputy executes it, you have 24-hours to depart.” With the upcoming weekend plus assignment to a deputy, the tenant had a few days grace period.

The unhappy tenants departed.

As I packed up, the judge leaned to the clerk and said, “That woman lied from the moment she opened her mouth and never stopped. I hate being lied to.”

Damn, every woman sensed her lying. Score: Women 6, Leigh 0. I’m not a bad landlord, but I am a terrible lie detector.

Oh, wanna buy a house? Sandwiched between two schools, it’s a great rental unit.