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

24 May 2020

The Murder of Me, part 2


Narrows Gorge Underwater
Narrows Gorge Underwater

Last week, a boating companion left Leigh trapped upside down in an overturned canoe in surging waters, fighting to free his ankles. If Leigh didn’t smash face-first into boulders rising from the depths, a whirlpool lay ahead.

He had been targeted for murder.

We return to the story…
— Editor

gorge map
Upside down in churning, freezing glacier melt, I fought to free my ankles. Threaded under the seat, my long legs proved difficult to extricate from a crevice not made for anyone over six feet. One foot pulled free… tug, twist… then the other. Still submerged, I yanked off my boots so I could swim.

My life preserver popped me to the surface. To my right, a ledge extended. I climbed like a wet rat, reaching that shelf, momentarily safe.

At a distance below, Jeff clung to the capsized canoe, orbiting the whirlpool. He screamed up at me, violently swearing.

Only one way off the ledge presented itself. I needed to plunge back into the freezing waters. It seemed a twelve-foot drop, but was probably half that.

I jumped. I swam for the circling canoe.

One of my boots bobbed there. I never knew hiking shoes could float. The other came within reach. Jeff cursed me the entire time.

“Shut it,” I said. “We need to empty the canoe.”

“How?”

“Give me the paddle,” I said.

“No.”

“The paddle, else stay stuck in this spin cycle.”

“No, you’ll leave.”

“I’ll leave if you don’t.”

He didn’t know how to get out of the predicament. He swore and tossed me the paddle.

“Rock the boat like this,” I said. “Slosh the water out.”

He followed instructions until we emptied much of the water. I stretched across and pulled myself into the stern. Jeff followed suit, clinging to a thwart. I ruddered the canoe until it separated from the grip of the whirlpool. It bounded down the rapids battering the hell out of the hull.

We spotted the portage. Bill, Sandy, and Lauren huddled there, stamping their feet against the cold.

“Where were you?” they said. “What happened to you?”

“Leigh fucked up,” said Jeff before I could speak. “He tipped us over. Leigh lost one of the oars and he’s fucking paying for it.”

The women hovered over Jeff, cooing and cawing. “You poor thing."

“Let’s hike,” I said. “Hypothermia. We need to get warm and dry.”

Moments later, Scott appeared. As the others climbed the trail, he and I hefted the canoe over our shoulders to portage it. In relative privacy under the shell, he spoke quietly.

“Weirdest thing, Leigh. I inched along the cliff face and kept you in sight.”

“You picked your way across that bluff?” I was impressed.

“Yeah. As the canoe aimed at those rocks, I remembered the stern guy steers. When Jeff started rocking the boat. I’m convinced he deliberately capsized it.”

I said, “Pretty much what happened.”

“Why do that? You could have been killed.”

“I don’t know, Scott. I can’t explain it.”

Jeff Summerfield's Malfoy sneer
The Malfoy sneer
The Cool

Back at camp, the only warmth arose from the fire. Jeff held court, regarding me with his down-the-nose Malfoy gaze.

He might have been practicing the campfire tale of my misfortune for hours, days, even weeks. His dramatic recounting horrified a sympathetic audience. He held my incompetence forced the canoe into the rocks. I panicked, lost my paddle, and needed rescuing.

“The great canoeing expert man,” he said. “Good thing no one else trusted lives to him. Guy can’t hold onto a paddle.”

Bill glared at me accusingly. “You almost got Jeff killed.”

A childhood defect often renders me speechless against untrue accusations.

Scott remained silent. I imagined he’d filled Sandy in as they glided back to camp, but her eyes showed doubt as Jeff told and retold his story. Who would deliberately capsize a canoe in dangerous waters?

The Cold

Lauren took my protests as churlish and unfair to Jeff. On the drive back to Minneapolis, she hovered under a blanket with him, not me, signaling the beginning of the end of a lengthy relationship.

Thereafter, she brooked no criticism of him. The more I sullenly avoided Jeff, the more Lauren cozied up to him. Except for curt, one-word replies, she stopped speaking with me.

The day came when Lauren called it quits over the phone.

Next morning, Sandy rang me. She couldn’t contain the breakup headline news update.

“We barely got her stuff moved into a condo and in waltzed Jeff with his backpack and ski poles. He sat in the easy chair and ordered the rest of us around, where to put this, where to arrange that. We can’t believe her. Can’t you stop this?”

“Not any more, Sandy. Not any more.”

The Ice

During those moments of the river ‘accident,’ I didn't have time for fear. The real impact came later, shock and internal pain… Once upon a time Lauren caused my world to revolve. Then the planet tilted, stopping dead in its tracks.

No way. I’m a tough guy, big, resilient, not gutted, not hurt, no bruised soft tissue, no seared scars, no brutalization of betrayal, nothing to see folks. No jagged spear tore out a wretched pulsing, pumping organ that couldn’t be mine. No salty water blinded my eyes, no unending oceans of agony, no treacherous waves hammered soft shoals, no dark tunnels flooded with torture and torment, no anguish, no fiery cauldron of pain, no. No problem, nothing, nothing at all, just a… just a fourteen-digit number on the Richter scale of heartbreak.

General Armstrong Custer, Jeff Summerfield look-alike
Custer, Jeff look-alike
Casting Stones

In the time I’d known him, Jeff had become an expensive acquaintance. The never-ending lending for lunch or dinner was the least of it. Around him, things broke, things disappeared, things died.

The year before, he’d mysteriously blown up the new engine in our little Triumph Spitfire. I never let him drive another car, but he persuaded Lauren to let him try out our newly purchased Dodge– an hour after midnight– while I was at work, when good little children should have been sound asleep. Claiming he hit a patch of ice, he’d slammed it into a guardrail on Interstate 494… at one in the morning.

Jeff manifested a couple of peculiarities, especially compulsive lying. Our expanded circle of friends merely wrote that off as Jeff being Jeff. But the cash bag from Lauren’s shop vanished in Jeff’s presence. And animals… critters left in his care curiously died.

The women in our larger circle noticed something else. They remarked how Jeff exhibited a penchant for dating young widows.

Lauren had nearly become one– a young widow.

Constant nightmares haunted me. With difficulty, I caught my breath and began to recover. I threw myself into my work.

That should have marked the end of the saga. It didn’t.

Sherburne County Sheriff
Castle Breached

A freezing January day found me consulting out of state. An emergency phone call rang in from Lauren, she was visiting the house. My peaceful home in the woods– a state forest– had been burglarized and badly vandalized.

Sherburne County’s Sheriff might have presided over a frozen rural fiefdom, but he was no slouch. While his fingerprint maven dusted enough powder to mount a community theatre production of Chim-Chim Cher-ee, the sheriff explained the situation over the phone.

Wood chips from the supposed point of entry were scattered inside, not outside the back door. The sheriff found no footprints in the snow, none, nor footprints anywhere around the house. The only trail was tire tracks straight into the garage. A large screwdriver left at the scene suggested a burglary tool used to break into the house, except… it had come from my toolchest… already inside the house.

“Kinda strange, doncha think?” the sheriff said.

“Very.”

“Anyone besides Lauren have access to your garage opener?”

I unloaded suspicions that had built from the moment she phoned. She’d mentioned Jeff acted particularly odd when she announced her intention of checking the house. Normally Lauren defended him tooth and nail. Now she hesitated.

The sheriff promised to call me back. He did, sooner than I expected. Deputies had picked up Jeff skulking along country roads… in January… in subzero Minnesota.

The sheriff said, “Thirty minutes after question one, our boy painted himself in a corner so tight, he confessed to crimes we never asked about. FYI, this guy hates your guts.”

I said, “Why? I gave him work, I lent him money for lunch and dinner.”

“That’s the problem. You need to pick better pals. He pretended to be a friend while he hung around your companions and targeted you. He invited himself into your group, into your shop, and into your home. He gave the women little gifts stolen from others, robbing from Petra to pay Paula.”

The sheriff continued. “This boy profiled you. He asked innocent questions, gathering personal ammunition. On your previous canoe trips, he said it was goddamn hard to get you talking about yourself, getting you to reveal the private you, but he managed.”

“Why so much effort to come after me? I never did anything against him.”

“He admits that. You gave him lifts when he didn’t have a ride. You often paid for his meals. What you considered generosity and sharing, he took as deliberately showing off and humiliating him. Jeff envied you, he hated you. You had material things he wanted: lovely woman, house, and a couple of cars. Your occupation allowed you to travel. What did you do with your advantages? Nothing, by his reckoning. You didn’t buy fancy stuff, you just kept working. It wasn’t fair, he thought. You didn’t deserve it, he did. So he set out to destroy you and take what he could.”

“Sheriff, did you ask about the canoeing accident?”

“Clearly no accident. He didn’t give us a thing to charge him, but he enjoyed mocking us. It was like he challenged us to prove anything. He fed us cocky TV dialogue and cute tidbits like, ‘An accident couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.’”

“Sheriff, I never intended him ill.”

“Son, you do not understand evil. No one believes you wronged him. He’s a total narcissist. His world has a population of one. He gets what he wants manipulating innocents. For him, screwing others is more rewarding than working. In the future, try not to be so damn trusting.”

Farmers Insurance
Castle Defence

Jeff’s game wasn’t over.

The sheriff’s office filed burglary, theft, and property damage charges. However, the state attorney wouldn’t prosecute until my insurance company weighed in, and Farmers Insurance hadn’t obliged. For months, they refused to pay for the damage and destruction.

My insurance agent resembled a red-bearded Hagrid. Two metres tall, 6½+ feet of Midwestern muscle, my rep sumo wrestled professionally in the US and Japan. He could have shaded Jesse Ventura, but he proved no match for Jeff. When he sat down with me, he looked morose.

He said, “Farmers won’t pay, they won’t subrogate, they won’t prosecute. This guy’s going to walk.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Jeff persuaded the company investigator you masterminded the burglary of your own house and snared innocent him in your scheme.”

“I’m the guy who wants to see this case go to trial. The sheriff wants to try him and so do I.”

The agent shook his massive Hagrid head.

“The adjuster’s convinced the sheriff got it wrong and you’re the bad guy.”

“How? On what evidence?”

He drummed fingers the size of hammers on his desk.

“The company investigator turned in dinner expenses for two. She said she needed to get Jeff to open up.”

“Why does she…? Oh, no, no. She wined and dined Jeff? He played her?”

“In-depth investigation, according to my secretary.”

“That’s a pun? They’re dating?”

“Who’s to say? Who investigates investigators?”

Farmers’ confidence in their private detective cost them. After I hired counsel, the underwriter realized their statutory window of time to sue Jeff had run out and they could no longer collect. The company begrudgingly paid my attorney and sent a check for replacement and repairs.

The investigator’s position caused further fallout. Because Farmers Insurance contradicted the findings of the sheriff, the prosecutor didn’t indict. His office explained the defense would simply call Jeff’s tame insurance investigator and undermine their slam-dunk case.

After mere days in jail, Jeff skated. A homicidal grifter now walked free.

Case Closed

For a year, nightmares haunted me. They didn’t stem from fear of Jeff, but fear of my inner rage. In my violent dreams, he died a hundred imaginative deaths. That wasn’t me, not the person I wanted to be. During waking hours, I clamped down my anger, but when freed to roam dreamscapes, my nightmares would have terrified him; they certainly horrified me.

For my own well-being, I needed to escape. I stravaiged around Europe, working, consulting, trouble-shooting. A couple of times, word drifted over from the States.

Lauren entered the hospital for a couple of weeks. Her parents confided that absent a meal ticket, Jeff promptly moved in with a younger girl, and then another, always another.

Last I heard, he married a wealthy widow. No word if Jeff was involved in her premature widowhood.

Leigh Lundin
Final Word

It’s taken years to write this, mostly because of my difficulty talking about myself. My words sound all wrong, I can’t properly document my emotions. Please, my apologies.

Ultimately to a writer, everything is fuel or fodder. I experimented, crafting nightmares into a story, which I might yet finish. In my version, the bad guy finally gets his comeuppance. Perhaps that dark chapter inside me could yet open to the light of day.



Years later, another man– this one a pillar of his church and the Orlando community– would tell me those same words, “You don’t understand evil.” Thirty days later, he and his wife would die violently.

17 May 2020

The Murder of Me, part 1


Leigh Lundin
Once upon a time, I became a murder target. This is the story.

Intent

Scott volunteered his garage for staging the trip: three canoes, three tents, sleeping bags, air mattresses, backpacks, and supplies. Sandy had purchased a chuckwagon of victuals to feed six for a three-day weekend.

Five of us had met a couple of years earlier as part of a larger wildlife and zoological collection of friends. We often lunched or dined together.

Scott, a serial obsessor, was currently learning film-making and canoeing. His self-professed ‘political lesbian’ girlfriend Sandy invited Bill, her grip, gaffer, and gofer to join us. They asked my inamorata Lauren and me to participate in their fledgling film-making. Their high-energy projects were social and entertaining once we learned to tune out Scott and Sandy’s bickering. Sandy and Scott argued about nothing– all the time.

General Armstrong Custer, Jeff Summerfield look-alike
Armstrong Custer
Jeff slipped into the group late, at 23, the youngest among us. Women admired his flowing blond hair and beard, a General Custer look-alike in three-quarter scale. He always wore white, even after Labor Day. Due to an East Coast work commitment, I didn’t meet him right away. When he discovered I enjoyed canoeing, he suggested the two of us canoe the upper Mississippi.  We made it a sixty mile run from Monticello to south of the Twin Cities.

When news of the jaunt reached Scott, he suggested Jeff and I guide our group on a camping-canoe trek in the northern part of the state. Major consultations ensued, debating whether to venture onto the Cloquet River, the St. Louis, or the St. Croix.

“They’re too bourgeois,” said Jeff. At times, his lip curled like Draco Malfoy.

Sandy perked up. Marxist memes got her blood pumping. Her capitalist man Scott rolled his eyes.

I was curious. “Too bourgeois?”

“Especially the St. Croix, touristy, everyone does it, even Cub Scouts. Let’s run the Vermilion, I know those rivers super well.”

Super well won out over ordinary well. Lauren checked the weather. I gathered maps and charts. Sandy and Scott bought enough food to feed a village through a long winter. Jeff borrowed three canoes. Bill provided an oversized SUV with a roof rack.

According to a hidden agenda, one of us wouldn’t return– ever.

Me.

Frank Lloyd Wright Service Station, Cloquet, Minnesota
Frank Lloyd Wright Service Station
The First Strike

Scott recommended a historical stop, the Frank Lloyd Wright Service Station, Cloquet, Minnesota. Up close, it resembled a diminutive airport control tower, well worth visiting. Jeff said he’d keep an eye on the car while the rest of us took advantage of the restrooms.

As we walked back, a gold glint flashed in the sunlight. My brass lensatic compass lay crushed on the pavement. It was quite old and I was fond of its craftsmanship. Now it lay broken on the tarmac next to our tire.

“It must have fallen out of your pocket,” said Bill, “and someone drove over it.”

Confused, I said, “It was in my pack, not my pocket. How could a vehicle maneuver this close?”

“Sorry, Leigh,” said Scott. “Let’s have the maps.”

“They’re on top of…”

The canvas map case had been stacked on top of our gear within easy reach. Where the hell was it? We dragged out packs and bedrolls without finding it.

Jeff said, “Christ. You were responsible for one thing, and you left it at home.”

“No. No, I didn’t.” I frowned, thinking back. “I bundled it with my radio…”

“Your what? The great outdoorsman brings a radio on a camping trip?”

“Shouldn’t you? Weather band, AM direction finder?”

“Jesus. Leigh can’t get enough dance music, but he forgets maps and charts.”

The others tittered. I gritted my teeth.

“I’ll get us there.”

“Sure you will.”

Matters had only begun to go awry.

Strike Two, Three, Four…

After an hour of old-growth, deciduous forest, we entered Kabetogama where we found an ideal campsite on the lake shore. Sandy, Lauren, and Bill built a fire for dinner. Scott and I trenched a latrine and erected tents.

I unrolled our down bags and… What the hell? Mine was soaking wet. Unzipping it revealed my canteen missing its cap.

Sandy laughed. “Leigh, you shouldn’t roll your canteen in your sleeping bag.”

“I never do.”

“Clearly you did. Guess who’s sleeping in the wet spot?”

I spread it near the fire and returned to inflate the air mattresses. Mine had been slashed open.

“With a knife,” I said. I stared at Jeff. “Why are you screwing with me?”

“Me!” He chuckled. “You’re paranoid, man. Some people can’t take the wilderness.”

Bill’s forehead wrinkled. “Why are you picking on Jeff?”

Scott said, “Stay cool, Leigh. There’s probably a simple explanation.”

“Like being gas-lighted? Lost maps, broken compass, uncapped canteen, sopping sleeping bag, and a slashed air mattress?”

“You’re acting really weird,” said Lauren. She moved away from the fire and merged into the shadows, soon giggling with Jeff.

Scott sat beside me. “What’s the deal with Jeff?”

“At the gas station, he chose to stay with the car. That compass was no accident. He had plenty of time. I just don’t understand why.”

When Lauren finally parted the tent flaps, she unzipped her bag from mine and turned away. Scott and Sandy fared better. Their daytime sniping softened into a shut-up-and-fuck-me aphrodisiac in the still of the forest night.

canoe parts
Daybreak

The lonely wail of mournful loons awoke us. Practical joker Jeff kicked loose the pegs, collapsing my dew-soaked tent over me. Lots of yucks. Jeff acted oddly testy as I cheerfully washed up. Although I started the morning cold and wet, we’d soon be on the water, which I loved.

After breakfast, I gave a twenty minute summary of my superb canoe training:
The strokes: forward cross, the back stroke, and the J-stroke. A bowman powers, the stern steers. Life vests, always. In rough churn, down on your knees. Don’t get stupid. Don’t get killed.
“Fuck man, they get it,” said Jeff. “Let’s hit the trail. They’ll learn on the way.”
canoe Scott and Sandy

Sandy and Scott’s trademarked squabbles affected their steering. They spiraled downstream, paddling in circles, entertaining the wildlife. Otherwise, the first couple of hours went smoothly.

Midmorning, the current quickened. We approached a canyon walled by sheer cliffs. The gorge plunged downward and narrowed until it forced the river into an abrupt 90º L. We glided to the left bank so Jeff and I could study it.

gorge map
Midstream, boulders spaced over a hundred yards peeked above the thrashing water line, canoe-killers centered in the rushing turbulence.

A few feet past the rocks, channeled by vertical palisades, the river thundered headlong until it swept into a whirlpool at the heel of the ell. From there, the swirling maelstrom emptied down stair-step rapids. Beautiful and challenging, it demanded respect.

Although Jeff and I gauged it navigable with competent handling, we couldn’t be certain until we’d run it once. If we succeeded, he and I would thread each canoe one-by-one through the gorge.

If we found it too perilous, the gang had located a downstream portage trail through the woods. Steep, rough, and given the limited strength of half our party, portaging appeared much less attractive than canoeing the whirlpool and rapids.

Cast Off

I handed my wallet and keys to Lauren. Until that point, I’d worn my life vest loosely. Now I cinched it tight.

Jeff laughed. “What, Leigh? You scared? Are you a pussy?”

“Prudent. It’s called prudent.”

Since he’d collapsed the wet tent over me, Jeff had grown more and more belligerent. As the only other member with experience, he should have known better.

I selected the sleeker of the three canoes. I started to step into the stern when Jeff stopped me.

He said, “I’m going to steer. I want the back.”

“Not a good idea, Jeff. No offence, but you’re what, one-forty? I outweigh you forty, fifty pounds. We need the bow light and the weight aft. Going in prow-low adds needless risk. There’s no 911. People can die out here.”

Jeff’s lip curled. “Back up, man. We got only your word you’re experienced. I’m responsible for the boats, not you. I drive or it’s your fucking fault this trip’s over.” 

The women rolled their eyes. Sandy said, “Christ. It’s just a stupid canoe. Who cares who sits in first class?”

Lauren glared at me. “You’re ruining our trip.”

Damn. Jeff had expertly manipulated the situation and I was losing. He said, “You, the great white canoe instructor, just a control-freak.”

“Yeah.” Sandy just couldn’t keep quiet. “Canoeing is a lot easier than you let on.”

Bill said, “Give Jeff a chance to show what he can do.”

I protested but…

Five people glared at me, thinking me unreasonable. Reluctantly, I acceded. I’d lost their confidence, but with care, I could still guide the canoes through the turbulent gorge.

canoe bow bulkhead and seat
bow bulkhead and seat
Cast the First Stone

An unexpected problem arose, kneeling in the bow to lower the center of gravity. The pointed ends of our canoes housed a secret compartment, a little wedge of flotation foam hidden behind a bulkhead, right where my knees needed to be. The bow was not made for people well over six feet tall. Jamming in my long legs locked my ankles under the seat.

We’d planned to return a hundred yards upstream and line up the canoe for the run. Now in charge, Jeff bounded directly into the ravine. The low-lying boulders dominating the center of the river loomed ahead.

“Rocks,” I yelled. I plunged the paddle deep, using it like a rudder to edge the prow aside.

Inexplicably, the canoe swung back, aimed toward submerged stone giants that’d resisted the river long before early man walked its shores. I seized advantage of the momentum to force the canoe toward the other side.

“Sheer off!” I shouted over my shoulder. “Veer off, man! Veer!”

The response defied comprehension. The nose swung back toward the rocks. Disaster raced toward us.

“Jeff…!”

We hit the first boulder. To my astonishment, the force of the rushing current swept us up and over it. Eons of gushing water had polished the granite smooth. It thumped our ass, but the little canoe survived.

For the moment.

I couldn’t fathom the actions behind me. As the second set of buried boulders sped toward us, I thrust to offset the trajectory– to no avail. Speeding toward us…

Instead of the boulder tearing out the canoe’s bottom, the river yet again launched us to safety over the hazard. We didn’t deserve it, but the rushing turbulence repeated its magic trick a third time.

The little craft and I breathed a moment’s respite until hitting the whirlpool. Before I could process events…

Rummmph! The canoe rolled violently to the left.

Instinctively, I rocked the other way. The battered hull righted.

Rummmph! It rolled to the right. No rocks. We hadn’t struck anything.

I twisted around. “Jeff! What the hell’s going on?”

The words barely left my lips before I felt it rock left again.

We’re going over, I realized. Oh, no. The bulkhead held my knees trapped, locking my ankles and hiking boots under the seat.

Tossing away my paddle, I tucked and carried through the roll, not fighting the canoe as it capsized. Upside down in foaming, freezing Canadian runoff, at risk of slamming face-first into a boulder rising from the depths, my life hung on a thread.

Minnesota Narrows Gorge
Minnesota Narrows Gorge

Next time…



Don’t know, never asked.[1][2][3]

03 May 2020

20 to Go


The Rule of Four (novel)
Experts suggest the COVID-19 coronavirus took root in the US sooner than believed, possibly as early as January. Personally, I believe it infected state and federal executive branches much, much earlier.

I’ve been astonished to learn of deep-seated efforts to fire Dr Anthony Fauci. Thus explaineth the lovely Haboob:
Far left and right conspiracy theorists reach remarkably similar conclusions. Both insist Dr Fauci masterminded a Clinton Foundation-funded Deep State effort to develop a virus fabricated in a Wuhan lab. Their profit motive was to make lots of money selling the world a co-developed vaccine, but the virus got away from the Chinese. Parting from the left’s hypothesis, the ultra-right maintains that the greatest intellect the White House has ever known leapt into action, averting an Obama-driven disaster in which tens of victims might have perished were it not for this great man who saved the planet. Or something like that.
We don’t do politics or low crimes and misdemeanors, just death and destruction. It takes great writing to top the tales coming out of national and state capitals. Gathered here are twenty exquisite murder mysteries, some new, some classics, some unusual, many recommended by others (thanks Sharon), most lengthy for that immersive read.

As viruses simmer in the summer cauldron, enjoy reading in a cool arbor bower.

The Cartel Don Winslow
Cult X Fuminori Nakamura
The Eighth Girl Maxine Mei-Fung Chung
The Historian Elizabeth Kostova
The Honourable Schoolboy John le Carré
L.A. Confidential James Ellroy
The Last Tourist Olen Steinhauer
The Luminaries Eleanor Catton
The Man Who Loved Dogs Leonardo Paduro
The Name of the Rose Umberto Eco
Natchez Burning Greg Isles
The Rule of Four Caldwell & Thomason
The Secret History Donna Tartt
Shantaram Gregory David Roberts
Six Four Hideo Yokoyama
Three Hours in Paris Cara Black
What’s Left of Me is Yours Stephanie Scott
The Witch Elm Tana French
2666 Roberto Bolaño
and the novel that started it all…
A Study in Scarlet Arthur Conan Doyle

What are your favorites?

19 April 2020

Florida by the Numbers


Florida postcard
Thursday, a hundred rankled Orange County protestors and children converged on Orlando City Hall to demand an end to government stay-home oppression. They cried out against the horrors of forced unlabor. They sought to be loosed from the bonds of dictatorial rule and set free. And Mike Huckabee clamored in Florida courts to be unshackled from the Orwellian tyranny that required him to follow laws like ordinary, common citizens. He needed to be liberated from onerous beach-front activity restraints because… something.

When Michigan activists protested in drive-in Operation Gridlock, police noted that in their cars, citizens were inadvertently practicing safe, social distancing. Not so in Orlando, where unmasked citrus cankers breathed and sneezed and coughed at will. The numbers can’t be real: 2⅓-million cases globally, 33 383 in Canada, ¾-million in the US, 25½-thousand in Florida, 3000+ in Central Florida– apparently fake news, including 78 local deaths.

The last time I agreed with Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer was, um, pretty much never, but damn, folks. We’re trying to save lives.

Central Floridians took matters a step further into the Twilight Zone. They contend Dr. Anthony Fauci is a lying, malevolent hoaxer who inexplicably holds the President’s ear, deliberately wreaking havoc at the Federal level. Fauci’s motives are, um, deep state, Obamacare-coddling, and a really nasty infection that afflicted Florida’s governor. Whatever, it demanded protesting.

By the Numbers

Politicians may choose to ignore the science, but it’s difficult to ignore the math. Updating as you read this, the count of cases and deaths are spooky.

Say, each coronavirus victim infects two other people, and those two each infect two others, etc. It doubles exponentially. (The reality is closer to 2½×, but 2× is scary enough and much easier to calculate.)

In an ancient tale from Persia (or India), a king agreed to pay the inventor of chess in rice, one grain on the 1st square of the chessboard, double that (two) on the 2nd square, double again (four) on the 3rd square, and so on for all sixty-four squares. Beginning with Square Zero (think Patient Zero) each square would contain:


results in…    
results in…    
results in…
0
1     22
4 194 304     44
17 592 186 044 416
1
2     23
8 388 608     45
35 184 372 088 832
2
4     24
16 777 216     46
70 368 744 177 664
3
8     25
33 554 432     47
140 737 488 355 328
4
16     26
67 108 864     48
281 474 976 710 656
5
32     27
134 217 728     49
562 949 953 421 312
6
64     28
268 435 456     50
1 125 899 906 842 624
7
128     29
536 870 912     51
2 251 799 813 685 248
8
256     30
1 073 741 824     52
4 503 599 627 370 496
9
512     31
2 147 483 648     53
9 007 199 254 740 992
10
1 024     32
4 294 967 296     54
18 014 398 509 481 984
11
2 048     33
8 589 934 592     55
36 028 797 018 963 968
12
4 096     34
17 179 869 184     56
72 057 594 037 927 936
13
8 192     35
34 359 738 368     57
144 115 188 075 855 872
14
16 384     36
68 719 476 736     58
288 230 376 151 711 744
15
32 768     37
137 438 953 472     59
576 460 752 303 423 488
16
65 536     38
274 877 906 944     60
1 152 921 504 606 846 976
17
131 072     39
549 755 813 888     61
2 305 843 009 213 693 952
18
262 144     40
1 099 511 627 776     62
4 611 686 018 427 387 904
19
524 288     41
2 199 023 255 552     63
9 223 372 036 854 775 808
20
1 048 576     42
4 398 046 511 104    

total:
21
2 097 152     43
8 796 093 022 208    
18 446 744 073 709 551 615

The total, my children, if your eyes haven’t glazed over, is 264-1, or 18 446 744 073 709 551 615, eighteen quintillion. Legends disagree whether the king made the maths wiz an economic advisor or executed the smartass.

The numbers, which start out relatively flat, soon zoom out of control. Relating to coronavirus, say the 10th generation victims infect a thousand more and the 12th another four thousand. The 20th level infects one million and the 30th one trillion. This is why it’s critical to disrupt the spread by masks, isolation, thorough cleansing, and sterilizing public places like Washington. But you knew that, right?

Please take care.

The Left Behind

Many are all atwitter about stimulus checks and several states have moved to protect landlords and tenants. In the rush to pass legislation, Congress and legislatures overlooked some citizens, including many college students and working teens. But here an Florida, another group in dire need has been forgotten. Sean Baker even made a movie about them starring Willem Dafoe.

Stay safe and read on…

05 April 2020

Customer Support Gig


HDD - hard disc drive
HDD

SSD - solid state drive
SSD
The Fates are having fun with me. I had to replace a computer and a central air conditioner in the same week.

My keyboard had been acting up– two dead keys, then a third. Apple has announced a new 14" MacBook Pro and days ago they brought out a gorgeous new MacBook Air with enticing specs. To tide me over until the we get to compare the new Pro, I ordered a refurbished computer from Amazon.

There must be some Jewish saying to the effect nothing is ever simple. Amazon shipped the wrong one, and I’ve been having polite chats with their India call center, who can’t understand what the problem is. I asked or a supervisor. The conversation went, starting with me…
“… and it arrived with a 500gig hard disc drive instead of a 512gig solid state drive.”
“So sir, you’re missing 12 giggy… gig things?”
“Gigs, gigabytes, but that’s not the major problem. It came with a HDD, not a SSD.”
“So if we send you 12 gigs, you’re okay?”
“Noooo. You’d have to send 512 packed in… a solid… state… drive.”
“But then you’d have more than a thousand gigs.”
“Therefore I need to return the computer.”
“Just for 12 gigs? Sir, I understand you are not happy and I apologize. I can offer you $15 in credit.”
Ah, writers got to love Mumbai Customer Support.

Next Time… Cooling my Heels in a Heat Wave

22 March 2020

Flash Fiction


I owe John Floyd for the impetus of today’s column, further examples of flash fiction.

Here is a bit of silliness first published in SleuthSayers…

WhiteWash
by Leigh Lundin

Bubbles was a slippery one. She tried to soft-soap me, but I strangled her in the bathtub, no trace, no prints, no evidence.

Me, I hate wet work, but the cops, they said it was a clean kill.

Clearly I had much to learn. This early tale is one of my two favorites…

A Night Out
by Leigh Lundin

"Darling, doesn't this hankie smell like chlorof…"

One of my first, an educational mini-lesson, appeared long ago on Criminal Brief.

The Power of Prepositions
by Leigh Lundin

Aladdin was getting along in years and found that he was unable to pitch a tent as he had done in his youth. Smart as well as lucky, Aladdin still had his magic lamp and, frugal with his wishes, he had one wish left.
He rubbed his lamp and the génie appeared. Aladdin begged him, “My camel can no longer thread the needle. Can you cure my erectile impotence?”
Genie said, “I can whisk away your problem.” With that, he rubbed his hands, evoking a puff of billowing blue smoke. Genie said, “I’ve dealt you a powerful spell, but at your age, you’ll be able to invoke it only once a year.”
“How do I use it?” asked Aladdin.
“All you have to do is say ‘one, two, three,’ and it shall rise for as long as you wish, but only once a year.”
Aladdin asked, “What happens when I’m exhausted and I no longer want to continue?”
Genie replied, “All you or your lady have to say is ‘one, two, three, four,’ and it will fade like a Sahara sunset. But be warned: the spell will not work again for another year.”
Aladdin galloped home, eager to try out his new powers of the flesh. That evening, Aladdin bathed away the dust of the desert and scented himself with oil of exotic myrrh. He climbed into bed where his resigned wife lay turned away, about to slip into Scheherazadic dreams.
Aladdin took a deep breath and said, “One, two, three.” Instantly, he became more aroused than he ever had in youth, a magnificent happenstance of tree-trunk proportions.
His wife, hearing Aladdin’s words, rolled back toward him and said, “What did you say ‘one, two, three,’ for?”
And that, dear readers, is why you should not end a sentence with a preposition.

A story inspired by a friend's comment…

Justin Goes to Jail
by Leigh Lundin

Police arrest Justin Bieber and send him to lockup. Dismayed but not disheartened, Bieber writes “Free JB!” on the walls in protest.

That’s when he learns his cellmate is dyslexic.

Following is my other favorite, but the story behind the story is wistful and runs far longer than the super-short piece itself.

My Pal George
by Leigh Lundin

I'm excited! For the first time ever, I'm taking my friend George shark fishing. Some might not understand how I could be so forgiving finding out about him and Joan, but he's my best pal, my chum.

Which did you like?

15 March 2020

Child Conspiracy


Recent SleuthSayers posts have taken a autobiographical turn. I don’t have any new great anecdotes, but I was talking with Haboob about early childhood recollection.

Early memories vary considerably. Ray Bradbury said he could recall his moment of birth and pretty much everything since. Another friend says she remembers almost nothing before the age of ten or twelve.

My memory falls in between, mostly significant events that rocked my infant world. I recall my first step, probably because of my parents’ fuss. Contrary to vicious rumors, that occurred well before my teen years when repairs necessitated exiting my beloved car.

The Rumor Mill

Long ago on Criminal Brief, I wrote about getting into trouble, mainly by being a good student. Weird, huh. I mean me.

Perhaps the most telling of those anecdotes occurred in the first grade. Miss Ruth, a fixture when my mother attended school, trotted us down to the gym. She sat us on the floor arranged in an alphabetical line. She explained how rumors couldn’t be trusted. We’d discover this, she said, playing a game of Telephone.

As a reader, you know Telephone: Into Amber Abelard’s ear, she’d whisper a story, who’d whisper it to Becky Bart, seated next to her. At the end of the line, Walter Younger would relate the story as he heard it. The teacher would then compare it to the original, lesson learnt.

Except… Even in the first grade, there was something of an investigator or junior scientist in me. (Adults usually called it other names.) Alphabetically, I sat dead center in the row of little whisperers. When it was my turn and the story about a cuddly bunny’s bicycle reached my ear, I realized I could run a double experiment. I whispered to the girl next to me my own fabrication about an ice skating duck.

After the words left my lips, I panicked. Miss Ruth was bound to investigate who’d sabotaged her tale. Our teachers believed in corporal punishment. They believed in capital punishment. I was done for, my life over barely into the first grade.

Walter duly stood and story-forthed the legend of a duck on roller skates.

The expression on Miss Ruth’s face… I can’t describe the despondency, somewhere between gaping and gasping.

Her hundred forty nine years of teaching (Did I mention she’d taught my mother?) fled before her eyes. Surely she wondered where she’d gone wrong. What had the Good Lord inflicted upon her?

She never finished the lesson, but packed it in for the day.

I had sold my first story.

Childhood Theory of Evolution
Childhood Theory of Evolution

The Grand Conspiracy

In retrospect, my weirdest early memory was the irrefutable evidence grownups lied to children. Nope, not like most kids. My parents didn’t believe in misleading toddlers about St Nicholas aka Father Christmas, the Easter Bunny, or the Tooth Fairy. Instead, they adopted sort of a conspiratorial approach, said many parents deceived their kids about Santa Claus, winked, and told us the truth. We fully enjoyed Christmas without the obfuscation. It puzzles me today when outraged parents scream when someone pulls aside the curtain of truth.

Nope, my parents played holiday games and the Tooth Fairy, but always let us know it was a game of make-believe.

But still, I knew adults lied. Specifically about growing up. I didn’t believe kids grew bigger or adults had ever been small. I need look no further than myself. On a remote farm, there were no other children to compare.

Childhood time moved so slowly, I never appeared to grow bigger. My next birthday seemed impossibly far off and anyway, birthdays were just numbers the people who controlled the world made up.

Obviously, getting bigger was an illusion promulgated by dishonest adults. Clothes shrank so how could a child judge whether he was growing bigger or clothes were getting smaller?

Old photos of grownups supposedly as children weren’t proof, all grainy and unrecognizable. They were just snapshots of other kids lost in the distant past.

Moreever, I knew things. I was raised amid farms and forests. Baby animals grew up in a matter of weeks or at most, months– mice, rabbits, chicks, and puppies. In less than a year, a calf would grow into a heifer or young bull. I didn’t grow at all during those weeks and months.

Who were they kidding? I’d exposed a dastardly plot to subjugate children and prevent them asking too many questions.

Without realizing the creeping evidence, I gradually became subverted. Or perhaps the adult nightly brain-washers laundered my thoughts.

But I was right about one thing. I never grew up.

01 March 2020

Tales from the Wood


Just two
Friends
Sexual
‘Cement’ their love
Killing
Five victims… or twelve… or seventeen or eighteen
… numbers unknown.
Catherine Wood

Gwendolyn Graham
Made it a game. Made it fun. Tried to spell out ‘m-u-r-d-e-r’ with victims’ names. Couldn’t spell worth nuthin’.

Made up for spelling in sing-song verse– Love ya forever and a day… for each killing.

You no tell, I no tell… forever. Until one cheats.

Gwendolyn Graham, Catherine Wood.

Wood sought revenge on Gwen. Cathy, the manipulator, the planner, the convincer of police and prosecutors, she testified convincingly against her former inamorata.

This unfolded in the latter 1980s, back when female serial killers didn’t exist, never mind two working in concert. So why should we care now?

One of them, Wood, the one incarcerated here in mad, mad, mad, mad Florida, won parole. Graham remains locked away forever.

Has justice been served?

Wood initially imparted the tales of the killings to her ex-husband. Not knowing what to think, he brought in police which, oddly enough, may have been part of Cathy Wood’s revenge plan.

She and other witnesses told authorities a number of stories:
  1. All Gwen’s fault. Gwen thought it up. Gwen planned the murders. Gwen picked targets. Gwen executed victims. Gwen took souvenirs. Gwen bullied Cathy to serve as reluctant lookout. Gwen guilty. Cathy not so much.
  2. Nobody killed nobody. Catherine Wood made it all up as a mind game to punish Graham.
  3. Cathy Wood planned and killed at least the first woman, then involved Graham in a calculated move to bind Gwen Graham to her forever.
  4. Wood planned and executed all five to a dozen or more murders to implicate Graham. The goal was revenge for cheating on her, a plot that spun out of control.
  5. Graham herself contends she’s innocent, a victim of Wood’s hatred and thirst for vengeance. She might be right… or not.
Here’s Nancy Grace going breathlessly verklempt about it.


Remember the case? What’s your opinion? Do weigh in.

16 February 2020

All in the Fingertips


bad girl
Did you ever wish you could peer into the past? In a way, anyone with a smartphone can, especially bad guys. With the help of technology, they can apply a trick to steal codes from digital locks, safes, secured buildings, even your ATM and credit card PIN numbers.

FLIR Systems specializes in infrared technology. They sell thermal cameras, attachments for iPhones and more recently for Androids, gadgets that gaze into the past. When it comes to PIN codes, this accessory can tell what keys were last touched. They accomplish it by sensing residual heat from your fingertips.

The Polite Lady

At the ATM, the woman rummaging in her purse waves you to go ahead. Twenty minutes earlier, her boyfriend had hot glued a fake card reader over the real one, Chinese made to blend with the original.

The lady finds her iPhone and politely waits while you complete your transaction. You step away, nodding to the nice person. She steps forward to attend to her business… reading your keystrokes with her smartphone.

How? A simple filter records the presence of your fingertips from the first, the coolest, to the hottest, the last digit you entered. Can you guess this all-too-common PIN number?

10-key pad with telltale reddish heat signatures
keypad with telltale heat signatures

If you said, “What ninny uses 1-2-3-4-5 for a PIN?” you’re right. The answer to that question is about 10-12% of the population.

The Smart Lady

Like most people, I normally work a 10-key device with three fingers like an accountant. With PIN code theft on the rise, I’d adopted the practice of pressing keys with my fingers out of order. It probably looks awkward to an observer, but I might press a key in the left column with my middle finger, and a key on the right with my index finger. Clumsy but hopefully confusing to unwanted eyes. I’m also not afraid to cup my hand around the keyboard if it doesn’t have a cowl. None of those actions solves this new personal identity attack.

So I mention to my girlfriend I’m writing an article on the topic. I barely get the question on my lips before Haboob says, “Now you have to touch other keys to fool the camera.” Did I hint she’s pretty damn smart?

And yes, either let your fingertips pause on unused keys or touch other keys once you’ve pressed Enter and finished the transaction. And don’t start your PIN number with a 1. Or a 0. Just don’t do it. Bad guys love suckers who use dates for PINs or lazily use 1234… etc.

Natually, this makes fodder for fiction. It’s all in the fingers. Here’s a video with more detail, 3¾-minutes, geeky but worth it.

02 February 2020

When Opposites Repel


Leigh Lundin
Contronyms

Recently, we brought you an outrageous example of those Brexit colonialists claiming North Americans misuse ‘nonplussed’ to mean ‘unperturbed’ rather than ‘confused surprise’. Hmmph.

Thus nonplussed, I brought in the legendary James Lincoln Warren to sort out the word ‘belie’ in the same article. Today, we hope to render you further nonplussed with a list of forty dastardly contronyms, words with opposite meanings. Let’s have at it.

The ⇆ Glossary

belie
The subject gives lie to the object; the object gives lie to the subject.
bill
Having money (currency); owing money or seeking money owed.
bolt
To flee; to hold together.
bound
Head toward a destination, restrained from heading anywhere.
buckle
To fasten or join together; to collapse under pressure.
citation
Praising an act; issuing summons for an illegal act.
cleave
To adhere together; to split apart.
clip
To fasten together with a paperclip; to detach with shears.
consult
To seek advice; to give advice.
custom
A common practice; a unique bespoke item.
dust
To apply a fine power; to remove fine powder.
either
One or the other; both (original meaning; i.e, surrounded on either side).
enjoin
To order someone to act; to prohibit someone from acting.
fast
Firmly fixed, unmovable; unattached and able to move quickly.
finished
Completed; wrecked, destroyed.
garnish
To add or enhance (foods); to seize or withhold (wages).
handicap
An advantage to equalize (golf); disadvantage rendering equality difficult.
lease
To rent property; to offer property for rent.
leave
To remove oneself from a location; to be left behind in a location.
left
Departed; remained behind.
literally
Precisely and concretely; figuratively (through misuse).
model
Original upon which others are based; a copy.
off
Not operating (i.e, lights went off); operating (alarm went off).
original
A fresh idea; an old notion.
out
Visible (stars are out); invisible (lights are out).
Lookout Mountain, Tennessee
Overseeing Lookout Mountain
© courtesy Town of
Lookout Mountain, Tennessee
overlook
See to; fail to see.
refrain
To repeat an action; to not perform an action at all.
peruse
To skim; to read carefully (original meaning).
ravel
To separate; to become entangled.
rent
To lease; to offer property for lease.
sanction
To approve an act; to punish an act.
screen
To hide, obscure; to show (a film).
seed
To add seed (to a lawn); to remove seed (from a melon).
strike
To hit; to not hit (a baseball).
transparent
Invisible; obvious.
trim
To add (decorations). to remove (hair).
variety
A particular type; many types.
wear
To endure; to deteriorate.
weather
To withstand or endure; to be worn away.
Note: I have not included word combinations and phrases such as ‘back up’, ‘hold up’, ‘go off’, ‘out of’, ‘throw out’, and ‘wound up’ that can imply their own opposites.

Confused? My job’s complete. Can you think of others?

19 January 2020

WalMart da Bomb!


Florida woman– yes, there is such a meme– almost set off a bomb in a Tampa WalMart. Of paramount concern, as evidenced by multiple headlines, she hadn’t paid for the goods used to MacGyver the bomb.

Details remain sketchy, but the incident might have come about something like the following
Walmart logo

Bang!

Emma’s day started with an explosion, not the good kind. She stared at her sad Toyota, its left front WalMart-brand tire blown out. Further under the car, a pool of Great Value oil gathered.

She slammed the car door. Signs out front advertised Great Value powdered peanut butter and Moochie the Slacker Sloth, endorsed by author Eve Fisher. Emma grabbed a shopping cart and ignored the WalMart greeter.

She whipped past Quest Diagnostics who’d collected blood and urine samples. Either they or the Great Value early pregnancy test kit were wrong, she wasn’t sure which. Maybe her craving for all things pickle was trying to give her a clue– pickle freeze pops, pickle chapped lip balm, even the pickle yodeler.

Emma stomped past the WalMart pharmacy. They’d refused to honor her medical marijuana card. When she loudly enquired about medical meth, they’d asked her to leave.

She continued, ignoring a woman in pajamas entering the in-store McDonalds. The WalMart eyeglasses shop looked fuzzy through her GV glasses. Money Services had cost her $1452 in a combined Nigerian prince and IRS scam.

Emma stopped at the salon to speak with her sister, Ella.

Ella said, “You need what?”

“Nail clippings, as many as you can get.”

“But… Is this another of your weird inventions?”

“Just do it. Sweep them up, whatever. Nails, real, artificial, I don’t care. Okay?”

Once upon a time, Emma had made the ideal WalMart customer. Where had it all gone wrong?

Chinese products, that’s what. No, even before that, her appearance on Shark Tank. She’d gone on the show to tout her latest invention, the Pooch Pouch, a hoodie sweatshirt with a built-in pocket for her puppy, Little Scabies.

Mr Wonderful himself, Kevin O’Leary, laughed his arse off.

Her ex-boyfriend had tried to warn her. Afterward, he must have heroically bitten his tongue.

Then what happened? The Kittyroo launched, an identical Chinese knockoff sold by WalMart. It wasn’t fair.

WalMart Chinese products drove her nuts. It wasn’t merely the lead paint on the toys, but nothing seemed to work right. Their melamine powdered milk could maybe kill you, but the ineffective garden insecticide couldn’t knock off a fire ant. The powders looked idential. Heck, they even tasted the same. When she added the insecticide to her now ex-boyfriend’s cereal, he merely burped and left for work.

She’d come to hate him. When she bought WalMart’s sexy Halloween mermaid skeleton costume, he stared at her weirdly. He’d had the same look when she’d given him a pink octopus mug.

Emma had tried to make her house a home. WalMart provided her biker gnomes and gangsta gnomes. She ordered the WalMart Golden Girls Chia Pets.

For the kitchen, she’d bought the Poop Emoji cake pan, bacon bowls for taco salads, and cock-flavored ramen noodles.

For her bathroom, she’d picked out Pain in the Butt Diaper Rash Cream, WalMart Christmas-themed toilet paper, and Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay. Plus the ultimate bathroom book How to Poo on a Date.

Little Scabies fled when she presented her puppy with doggy nail polish and a Dinosaur Pet Costume. Her ex and even her sister Ella gazed at her strangely.

Well, she had a solution for him. She phoned and ask him to meet her in WalMart. He groaned but agreed to come.

She wheeled her cart with the wriggling wheel to Housewares. She selected the largest Mason jar she could find. In Home Improvement, she snapped up denatured alcohol and Chinese-manufactured paint thinner. She dumped the contents into the jar.

In Girls Fashion, she picked out pink shoestrings. From Outdoors Goods, she bought a giant box of matches. She returned to the WalMart Salon.

Her sister cautiously handed her a baggie of nails and clippings. Ella said, “I added clippings from pedicures. Is that okay?”

“Sure, peachy, wonderful,” Emma said.

Her phone beeped. Text message. From ex-boyfriend. “Parking now. Meet you Sporting Goods.”

Emma dashed to the back of the store. Under a suspended canoe, she knelt and added the nails to the solution. She draped a shoelace into the jar. After a moment, she felt it. The shoestring wasn’t soaking up the liquid. What the flip? Was it some kind of weird non-absorbent Chinese polyester?

Quickly, she undid one of her own laces. Yes! In moments, it was thoroughly doused. It would make the perfect wick.

In the distance, she saw her boyfriend arriving. She’d already selected a WalMart crematory jar, much cheaper than the sports fan coffin.

Calmly, Emma opened the WalMart-brand matches. She struck one.

Nothing.

She struck again. Nil.

And again. Nope.

She tried another match. Nada.

And another. Zilch.

She grasped a half dozen and stuck the strip.

One gave a little pizzle and snuffed out.

Weeping, she seized a handful and tried fruitlessly to ignite them.

Nothing, not even a poof.

Emma burst into tears as a security guard closed in.

“Ma’am? Did you pay for those goods?”

And that might be how a Florida woman almost set off a nail bomb in a Tampa store. Perhaps. Note that all of the above are genuine WalMart products.