Mission Critical

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Chapter 16 - What Would You Risk for It?

Chafitz & Sons. It’s a savings and loan, rather than a bank. I guess you could call this one adding insult to injury: I read in the newspaper that this place is probably going to shut down in a few months. They’re not doing too well. Today? They’re not doing well at all. Neither are the two people these assbags shot. Why did they shoot them? Don’t ask me. According to the witnesses, they came in with guns blazing this time. They shot two customers right off the bat; probably to scare the shit out of everyone else. It worked, but they’re clearly not following the how-to book anymore. I don’t know why. What changed? What does it matter? They already murdered one person, nearly killed a bank guard, and now they’re going all nut job about it. One of the people who got shot is expected to live. He got hit in the right side. The other guy? The EMTs said it’s a coin toss: he could go either way. He got hit high in the chest. The rest of the people in here? Totally traumatized. We can barely get a straight answer out of any of them. There were no solid guys like our truck dealer this time. These people couldn’t handle what they went through. I can’t say that I blame them.

What really worries me – besides the fact that they’ve gone total nut job – is that they didn’t get much from this one. The assistant manager said she thinks they got about eleven thousand dollars from the cash drawers. These dickheads aren’t going to be satisfied with that. It’s their smallest take yet. They’ll hit again very soon. I’m sure of it. Why did they hit this place? Like I said, it’s not a bank. This place does mostly mortgage loans. They don’t keep a lot of cash on hand and I think most people know it. It’s not like they ran out of banks to rob. And even if they did, why not go to one of the surrounding jurisdictions? All in all, it’s like they went off-script and suddenly screwed up massively. Why would they do that? They’ve got a textbook on exactly what to do. Why deviate from that now? Why deviate from it at all? It doesn’t make any sense. Well, it doesn’t make any sense to me, anyway.

The carelessness doesn’t end with the two guys who got shot, either. Some of the witnesses saw the getaway truck this time. The young guy over there said it was a dark gray Nissan Frontier of some sort; definitely a King Cab type. He looks like kind of a redneck and rednecks know everything about trucks, so I’ll take his word for it. The assbags left it running right in front of the front door this time. Another deviation from their usual plan. Our redneck didn’t manage to get the license plate number, but I’m hoping the security video from the parking lot did. What happened this time? This hit was like what I’d expect from a bunch of gangbangers who watched too many movies. It was amateur. They made a lot of mistakes. It’s totally out of character for them. What’s going on with these dorks? Are they suddenly in it for the thrill?

“Sarge, let me guess: the one thing they didn’t forget to do was wear their gloves?”

“The witnesses say they all had masks and gloves. The two big guys were definitely calling the shots this time. I guess they got tired of listening to their nerdy little friend. They wanted to do it the old-fashioned way.”

If old-fashioned means shooting and beating people, then I’ll take the modern method any day of the week.

“Did the guy we think is DeWitt do any of the shooting?”

“Negative. In fact, two of the witnesses say he looked pretty upset about it. He had some words with his assbag friends, but they weren’t listening to him this time. He was pretty much along for the ride this time.”

“Why would they switch gears like that? They were doing pretty well when they were following the book.”

“Nobody ever said crooks were smart, Rane. They’re not. They’re also very impatient. This time, they screwed up. If they’d had a brain between the three of them, they’d have left town right after they killed that man in the last heist. That they’re still here tells me they’re stupid. Stupid and dangerous.”

A bad combination if ever there was one.

“Do we know if the security camera out front got the license plate number of the truck?”

“It did, and some of our guys already ran it. New Mexico plate. It’s a fake. No such number in the system. But at least we got a solid description of the truck. That’s something.”

“Is there any word on the victims?”

“Both in surgery. One of them should be fine. The other one could go either way. He took a bad hit, Rane. I think we have to prepare for the worst.”

Not what I wanted to hear! But I already expected it.

“Another homicide.”

“Probably. I want to shove these assbags in a wood chipper! Feet first!”

“So do I. Is there any other evidence? Shell casings?”

“Two forty caliber casings were recovered from the floor over by the door. The witnesses said there were only two shots fired. That’s all it took.”

I see Detective Rhee looking at the cash drawers. These guys wore gloves. There’s nothing to find there.

“What’s the word, Rhee?”

“Trouble! This couldn’t have happened at a worse time. Did you guys see this morning’s newspaper? Randall Schoen took out a full-page ad offering his services to every bank in the city. After this? A lot of them are going to take him up on it.”

Just what we need! A bunch of homicidal maniacs duking it out with another bunch of homicidal maniacs!

“The chief’s going to have to call him and tell him to back off.”

“Forget it. He already tried. I heard Schoen refused to take his calls. This is a late Christmas present for him. The only things missing are the wrapper and the bow.”

No doubt. Randall Schoen will send his goons out to everyone who asks, but his services won’t come cheap. Neither will the lawsuits from roughing up customers and maybe shooting a few of them. Those dickheads running the show? Remind me to switch to online banking.

“Detective!”

Lonnie Arista. He seems like he’s in a rush.

“What’s wrong, Lonnie?”

“We just got word from the hospital. That guy with the chest wound? He died on the table. The Homicide detectives are headed here now. Sergeant Duncan’s headed over to where the guy’s wife works to break the news. Sergeant Jardine’s coordinating the show from the station.”

At least I don’t have to do it this time. I know it’s a shitty thing to think, but I’m just glad I don’t have to do it.

“Is there any word on whether the FBI’s going to take over the case?”

I figured I’d ask. Two murders, back to back? The FBI is probably going to assert jurisdiction now. Better sooner than later, right?

“Nobody said anything about that, but they’ll probably come sniffing around soon enough. I’m thinking these guys are in the wind. No way would they be crazy enough to stick around after this shit.”

I hope he’s right, but I don’t think he is. These dickheads aren’t finished yet.

“Sarge, what do you think about throwing a Hail Mary on this one? LC got us the picture. The guy’s been in Cydonia before. What if we ask him to track this guy down? Prentiss said he met him at some conspiracy convention. Nobody knows that crowd like LC. He’s got the contacts and he’s got the reputation with those guys.”

“It might be worth a try, but he’s probably not going to be in a hurry to help out. Those boys don’t like people who work with the police and he’s already done that for us a couple of times. He might not want to do it again.”

“You’re saying he’s going to want something in return. Like what?”

I’m guessing he doesn’t mean another nude shot of me for his calendar.

“Right now? Probably nothing. But he’s going to expect an IOU and you’d better believe he’ll come looking to collect on it someday. He’s going to want something major for it. It’ll probably be something we don’t want to do for him. Are you ready for that?”

No, but I don’t see how we have much of a choice. Do you? I didn’t think so.

“Let’s go see him and hope he doesn’t ask for the moon. Or proof that the moon landing was faked.”

“He probably thinks he’s already got proof of that. All right, let’s go talk to him.”

It never ceases to amaze me how we keep ending up back there for help on a major case. It also never ceases to scare the hell out of me that LC always seems to have exactly what we need. I really think these Conspiracy Boys are going to take over the country someday. If they do, at least we’ll be in good with one of their leaders, right?


Guess where we are again! My unofficial home away from home! Yes, I think if this keeps up, the Sarge and I are going to have to pool our money and buy a stake in this place. It would probably be a good investment. The place is always packed, after all. I wonder if LC is a millionaire from this place? I wouldn’t be surprised anymore. You’ve seen the prices in this place: guns that cost over ten grand and they actually sell! Weird, huh? I know LC must be doing pretty well because that monster truck in the corner with all the bells and whistles? That’s his truck. He bought it a couple of weeks ago. Me? I probably couldn’t afford the mudflaps on it. You’ll never get rich being a cop, they say. OK, but couldn’t I just make enough to buy a decent car? I mean, come on! My sad little 2006 Ford 500? I don’t even think it has a blue book value anymore! I’d get more money for it by selling it to a scrap yard!

You know, I wonder if there’s any secret stuff under this place? I wouldn’t be surprised. They’ve got a bomb shelter down there. I’ve seen that already. LC told me it was built back in the fifties, during the height of the Cold War when everybody was afraid we were going to get nuked at any moment. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Conspiracy Boys dug out a top-secret base beneath the store to serve as their headquarters during the coming apocalypse. I’m sure you have to be a member of the club to know about it: secret handshake, code word, and an oath signed in your own blood. Something like that. Even if it’s not underneath the store, I’ll bet they’ve got one somewhere. Maybe more than one? There are real estate companies that sell abandoned missile silos out here and some people buy them and turn them into really cool homes. I wouldn’t be surprised if LC and his friends got together and bought one. No doubt stuffed with a decade’s worth of emergency rations, radiation suits, bioweapons detectors, and more guns than they’ve got in ten states’ National Guards. Maybe I should look into getting into the club? Just in case. These nut jobs have a disturbing tendency to be right about a lot of things, you know. Certainly a lot more than I would’ve though before I met any of them.

See? Look at that guy walking out of the shop! Carrying his new toy: a brand-new Barrett fifty-caliber rifle that probably set him back nearly ten grand! The ammo for that thing is about five bucks a shot! I’m telling you, the Sarge and I are in the wrong business! Paranoia and preparedness clearly sell! Every time I come here and see someone walking out with an armload of super-expensive stuff, I feel so…poor! You’ll definitely never get rich in law enforcement! I just hope the bump in pay that I’ll get from being SRT will enable me to scrape together a down-payment on a new car. I’ll even settle for a used one if it was made less than a decade ago. Mine just screams pathetic.

All right, we’re in. And no, I didn’t come here in uniform. Not when there’s a possibility that one of the patrons might recognize me as their favorite calendar girl, remember? I’d rather not have that happen. Besides, combat fatigues seems to be the unofficial dress code for this place. In that respect, the Sarge and I fit right in.

There’s LC up behind the counter. I see he’s not wearing one of his conspiracy t-shirts today. I guess they’re all in the wash. No, I take it back: he’s got on a black polo shirt with the Cydonia logo. I guess they finally sprung for nice shirts. It’s an upgrade, to be sure. I might actually buy one. The Cydonia logo is really cool.

“LC! Cubans!”

The secret code for “let’s meet out back,” remember? See? I’m already talking like one of them and I don’t even need a prompt from the Sarge! I’m doomed. I might as well accept it. All right, follow the crazy guy out the back door and into the secret Cone of Silence shed. I guess I should feel privileged that I get to come back here. How many girls get to go in the boys’ treehouse unless it’s for sex?

“What’s up, babe? Hey, congrats on making the SRT team!”

How the hell does he know that already? I only found out a few hours ago!

“How do you know that already?”

“I’ve got my sources. Got to keep track of that shit. You never know when they’re going to come for you, right? I like to know who I might be up against.”

With the firepower in this place? He’d lay waste to us in thirty seconds! Thank God this place is out of our jurisdiction!

“Well, thanks. Listen, about that guy in the picture you gave the Sarge…”

“Eugene DeWitt. Graduate of one of our fine online universities that sucks so bad, I can’t even remember the name. He’s got a bachelor’s degree in business administration that took him six years to get, no arrest record, currently the assistant to the Assistant Purchasing Manager over at the Bauer and Givens Plumbing Fixture Company. You mean that guy?”

Holy fucking shit! How does he do that? We couldn’t find a shred on this guy! Not one damned shred of information! How the hell does he do it?

“How do you know all that?”

“You guys said this fucking ween might be mixed up in a bunch of bank jobs. I make it my business to know about guys like that if they come into my store. They’re bad for business. There’s also the chance that a guy like that is part of a false-flag operation: diversionary tactic by the shadow government to divert attention away from their true agenda and gin up support for further restrictions on our natural rights!”

That’s what I get for asking, isn’t it?

“Um…how did you find out so much about him? We couldn’t find a single thing on that guy besides his name.”

“Because you don’t know where to look, babe. The information’s out there. You just need to know where to look for it. You go to the usual sources; you get the usual bullshit. You go to the right sources; you get the right information.”

I’m not going to argue with that. We struck out while he hit a home run. He must be doing something right.

“I don’t suppose you know where this guy lives, do you?”

“Not exactly. He’s gone gypsy in the last few months. He’s a hard one to nail down.”

Which is to say he’s been moving around a lot. Why? People who do that usually do it because they lost their job and their home. Evidently, this guy still has a job.

“What’s his deal? Why would he be mixed up with a couple of major hardcases who rip off banks?”

“I can’t be sure. He’s definitely not the type, you know. He’s a ween.”

“What’s a ween?”

“Sort of a wanna-be wanna-be. A ween doesn’t even rate as a wanna-be.”

OK, good to know. I think. Let me try a different approach. Maybe it’ll wipe that stupid grin off of the Sarge’s face. He enjoys watching me squirm every time we go through this crap.

“What’s his connection to…you know…your world?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, the author of that robbery book? Prentiss? He said he met him at this convention for conspiracy types…I don’t mean any offense.”

“Oh, I see what you’re getting at. None taken, by the way. The word I got was he’s big into crypto-currencies. I heard it’s all he talks about. He’s been in a few online communities looking for the next Bitcoin, which makes sense. It’s too late to get into that one. That ship has sailed, you know what I mean?”

Not exactly. All I know about Bitcoin is that it’s some weird cyber crap that people are paying an insane amount of money for. I don’t even know what you’re supposed to do with it.

“Why is he looking for the next Bitcoin?”

He’s rolling his eyes at me. I guess I deserved that. I told you: I have no idea what that stuff is all about.

“Babe, think about it! If you got in on the ground floor when Bitcoin came out, you’d have paid less than one cent per unit! Let’s say you bought a thousand bucks of it when it hit eight cents a throw. Do you have any idea how much it would be worth today?”

I could do the math if I knew how much the stuff was worth right now, but I don’t.

“I don’t know. A lot?”

Again with the eye-rolling? Stop making me feel like an idiot!

“A lot? Try four hundred twenty million bucks!”

Is he serious? How can anything be worth that much?

“For real? How can this crypto-stuff be worth that much?”

He’d better not do the eye-rolling thing again!

Think, babe! It’s a totally free form of exchange! Completely anonymous! We’re talking about a currency that can’t be traced! No government controls! No predatory taxes! It’s the New World Order’s worst nightmare! The more people come to realize how the crypto-fascist government controls the world’s currencies, the more free people realize the need for an alternative to a bunch of worthless paper with magnetic tracking strips embedded in it! It’s the one form of currency the power behind the power can’t manipulate!”

I really shouldn’t have asked that, should I? I think I got one word in ten from that speech.

“And there’s other forms of this crypto-stuff out there?”

“A few. More and more every year. The more people realize their ‘traditional’ money isn’t safe, the more valuable the crypto-currencies become. One of them’s going to become the next Bitcoin. If you back the right horse, you’ll be a billionaire in a few years. We’ve already seen it happen, right?”

All right, I can kind of see how that might happen. Wait a minute! Oh, you’ve got to be fucking kidding me! No way! No fucking way!

“LC, you don’t think these nut jobs could be ripping off banks to buy a bunch of this crypto-stuff in the hopes that it’ll be the next Bitcoin, do you?”

“I think that’s exactly what they’re doing, babe. I think that ween DeWitt thinks he knows which one is going to be the next to hit it big and he’s getting himself a stake to buy massively. It’s pretty risky, but think of the payoff if he’s right?”

Oh, this is just too weird! Look at the Sarge! He can’t believe it either! It’s totally insane!

“No one could be that crazy, could they?”

“Do the math, babe! Let’s say they buy in at five cents a unit. They’ve stolen how much? Half a million, give or take? Let’s say it goes up to thirty-three thousand a unit like Bitcoin is right now. How much would you have when that happened?”

God almighty!

“Three hundred thirty billion dollars.”

“See what I mean? What would you risk for a three hundred thirty billion dollar payout, babe?”

Damned near anything! But it’s crazy! How could anyone predict which of these crypto-currencies is going to be a hit? How could you even know if it’ll be around much longer? For all anyone knows, they’ll all be declared illegal next year! It’s an insane gamble! And to go out and rob banks and kill people for it? That’s even more insane!

“So…now you don’t think it was a false-flag operation?”

“You bet I do! DeWitt sounds like the perfect government sucker to me: some total ween who wants to hit the jackpot? He’s exactly the kind of dweeb they choose for covert manipulation, just like Oswald! Think about it: an operative of the shadow government puts that book in DeWitt’s hands; gives him the idea to rob banks so he can buy a shit ton of crypto-currency. When he and his buddies go down, their plan is exposed and people are made to think that crypto-currencies are something just for criminals. Then there’s a public outcry to have them declared illegal! Free people and truth-seekers are left twisting in the wind! What better way to destroy them without the shadow government tipping its hand? It’s the perfect false-flag operation! Tell me I’m wrong, babe.”

I’m not going to touch that one with a stick. He’ll twist my head around so much that before I know it, I’ll be hiding out in that bunker downstairs with the rest of the Conspiracy Boys. I can imagine what they’ll have me do for them after that, if you know what I mean. God, I’d probably be so paranoid by then that I’d be willing to do it!

“Sarge? What do you think?”

“I think it’s goddamned idiocy! But so are these assbags! And LC says this DeWitt character is into that stuff…crypto-currency? Maybe he convinced himself that he knows where the next pot of gold is going to be? People do it with the stock market all the time. That’s what keeps their brokers rich.”

I wouldn’t know. I can’t afford a broker. Or stocks.

“So this is our working theory of the crime now?”

“It’s as good as any, Rane. Maybe better than a lot of them? LC, where do you even buy this crypto-currency?”

“Where else? Online. You can get it through a broker, but sometimes you can get it direct from the source. It depends on the particular brand. The main thing is, it’s always completely covert. Untraceable. No one ever knows who’s buying it or who’s got it.”

“I really hate these damned computers! The world was a better place when we didn’t have any of them! All right, here’s what we do: LC, you try to nail down a location on this DeWitt character. Rane, you and I are going to pay a visit to that plumbing contractor and see what we can find out about him. If he’s still working there, we’re going to haul his ass in and let the detectives sweat the shit out of him! I don’t give a damn if we don’t have a warrant! This guy’s going to have a little sit-down with us! Good deal?”

“Sounds good to me, Sarge. LC, see if you can find out if this dork is actually buying any of this stuff. And before you say anything, we owe you big for this. And I’m sure you’ll collect one of these days.”

“You know it, babe. But you came through the last time, so I know you’re a woman of your word.”

Yes, I’m that. I always keep my promises. I’ll probably end up posing nude for some other project he’s got in mind. Maybe he’s got a side business: cam girls jacking off on the internet? I hope to God it’s not that! Well, I’ll worry about it when it comes. Right now, we’ve got a lot to do and not a lot of time to do it. These assbags are going to hit again. Maybe in the next day or two. And whatever their original plan, they’ve turned violent on a massive scale. I think the Sarge is right: the two hardcase types have decided to start calling the shots. For whatever reason, they don’t want to listen to DeWitt and his by-the-book plans. We need to shut these guys down pronto! Before anyone else gets killed!


The Bauer & Givens Plumbing Fixture Company. A big square box of a building in a warehouse district that doesn’t even have a name on the side of the place. Just a stencil on the front door. This place is mostly warehouse with a handful of cubicles in the front. I guess DeWitt works in one of them. He doesn’t look like the warehouse type to me. Assistant to the Assistant Purchasing Manager. That sounds like a job that would make you want to either kill yourself or become an alcoholic. Maybe DeWitt really did get into bank robbery for the thrills? Partly, at least. This place? This is the sort of job that makes me think of a woman who’s desperate to escape an abusive relationship: she’ll take anything just to get out of it. I’ve run into plenty of them since I’ve been a cop. I’m not entirely sure why a guy would take a job like this. I’d rather work in the warehouse, to be honest with you. It’s probably more interesting and a lot more satisfying.

We asked the girl at the desk about DeWitt and she didn’t know who he was. That’s not a good sign. Then again, she seemed utterly clueless, so he could work right next to her and she might not know who he is. It’s a good thing they only sell the plumbing stuff here instead of putting it in the walls. I wouldn’t trust that girl with a roll of tape, let alone with power tools. Still, it doesn’t look like they’ve got many people handling the white-collar stuff. You’d think someone would’ve just pointed to him right away.

Here comes a guy with a tie. An ugly tie, but a tie none the less. I’m guessing he’s the boss – or whatever passes for a boss around here.

“Dennis Thatcher. I’m the Managing Director. How can I help you, officers?”

Managing Director? That’s a pretty haughty title for the Lord of the Cubicles, isn’t it?

“I’m Sergeant Rane and this is Sergeant Varanasi. We wanted to speak to one of your employees: Eugene DeWitt. Is he here?”

“I’m sorry, he doesn’t work here anymore.”

That’s what I was afraid of.

“When did he quit?”

“He didn’t quit. He was laid off. We had to make some cutbacks during the whole COVID thing. Our business took quite a hit; particularly in the purchasing department. We had a lot of trouble getting inventory. Our company was lucky to survive it.”

Yours and everyone else’s. A lot of people around here lost their jobs with that crap. The police being first responders, we were exempt. As much as I was worried about catching that stupid virus, I was thanking God every day for the fact that I still had a job. It seems Eugene DeWitt wasn’t so lucky.

“He wasn’t rehired?”

“It wasn’t practical. We don’t expect to get back on our feet for at least another year. We can’t afford to bring anyone back yet. To tell you the truth, I’m not sure we ever will. We’ve pretty much adapted to the new paradigm; doing more with less. It’s a shame, but we have to do what’s best for the company. And I’m happy to say it seems to be working out great. Our people are adapting to the increased demands on them.”

So you kicked him to the curb and told someone else that now they had to do his job, too. Yes, there’s been a lot of that going around. Once they did without the position for a year, they didn’t want to spend the money they used to pay for the fired people. Just keep making the lucky few who weren’t fired do two jobs or more. Is it any wonder why the state’s unemployment fund is drained? A lot of those jobs aren’t coming back no matter what the politicians say.

“How long ago did he get laid off?”

“Eight months ago. Almost nine.”

“How long did he work here?”

“Not long. A couple of months.”

Which explains why he doesn’t have a tax return or a W-2 on file. He didn’t work here long enough to file one, I guess.

“Have you had any contact with him since then?”

What’s with the snicker, assbag? Did I say something funny?

“Contact with him? What for?”

Nice. The guy works for you for however long and suddenly he gets cut loose and you never want to hear from him again. No wonder he’s angry enough to start robbing banks. He should’ve stuck to just robbing this place. I’m not sure I’d vote to convict him if he did.

“Do you have an address for him?”

“Doubtful. We threw away the files we don’t need anymore. We might have one from when he was here, but I don’t know if he still lives there. Like I said, we haven’t had any contact with him since he left.”

You mean got laid off, pal. Shown the door. Big difference.

“We’ll take whatever you’ve got.”

I’m beginning to understand this DeWitt guy a little. This place would crush your soul. It’s more than enough to make you think some crazy get-rich-quick scheme is a better idea than more of the same. Like I said: alcoholic or suicide. Or bank robber and Bitcoin billionaire. I’ll bet this is why he reached for the brass ring: it was either that or start screaming and never stop.

“What do you think, Sarge?”

“If I had to work for that guy, I’d put a gun in my mouth. Right after I pushed him in front of a speeding forklift.”

“Not if I pushed him first. Remind me never to buy anything from this place.”

The way so many people got screwed over with that lockdown crap made me as mad as all hell. Our elected officials? They’re all shaking in their cowboy boots right now, dreading the next round of elections. Practically every one of them is going to get kicked out of their jobs. There’s a movement around town called “ABI,” which stands for “Anyone But the Incumbent.” Those assbags who were so casual with destroying people’s lives are about to get a taste of their own bullshit. It’ll be their turn on the unemployment line. What goes around comes around, right?

Here comes Mister Sensitivity. He isn’t holding a piece of paper. That’s not good.

“Sorry, we don’t have an address for him. Just an email address so we can send him his 1099. I don’t even know if it’s still valid.”

A 1099? Jesus, you didn’t even bother to take taxes out of his check? They’re probably not paying payroll taxes. I should snitch this place off to the IRS!

“We’ll take it. Is there anyone here who knew him well? Maybe was friends with him?”

“I doubt it. Sergeant, this is a place of business. We’re not here to socialize. We’re here to work.”

So if you say hello to someone or ask how they’re doing, you swoop in and chew them out for it? Wonderful! What a total dickface! How can anybody stand this guy? I’ve known him for a whole minute and I already want to punch him!

“Thanks for your help. We’ll see ourselves out.”

A little scrap of paper. That’s all they’ve got on DeWitt. You know, I’ll bet he did a good job for them. He did his work. Did what they asked of him. That dickface would’ve told us if he didn’t. No, he was probably a good guy and they just cut him loose. I understand that they couldn’t keep him on the payroll, but to just cut him loose with no contact? No follow-up? No phone calls just to see how he was doing? That’s bullshit if you ask me. Most people around here are a lot nicer than that. That dork must be from out of town.


Back at the station. We just finished briefing Lieutenant Jutras and Detective Arredondo about what we learned and our suspicion as to the motive for these robberies. They thought it was as insane as we did, but for some strange reason they didn’t dismiss it out of hand. Lieutenant Jutras remembers how LC came through for us last fall with the bomb maker for the biker gangs, so he knows he’s not some total crackpot who doesn’t know his ass from his elbow, as our literary friend would say. If there was any saving grace in all of it, it was that neither the Lieutenant nor Detective Arredondo knew any more about this crypto-currency stuff than I did. They spent a good part of the briefing on a laptop, Googling about crypto-currencies and Bitcoin and whatever. I read what they found and I don’t think I understood one word in fifty. That stuff is way out there! For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how any of it is worth a cent. I must be missing something major, huh?

The worst part was pointed out by Detective Arredondo: there seems to be no good way to figure out if anyone is buying this stuff. It’s untraceable. LC was right: the whole concept is based on anonymity and secrecy, and do they ever take that crap seriously! It’s not like stocks or bonds that can be easily traced. Somebody could be buying this crypto crap by the truckload and it looks like there’s no way to find out about it. Nobody seems to regulate it. It’s not like you can call the SEC or the IRS and find out about it. It’s totally untraceable and we don’t even know how he’s getting it – or even if he is getting any of it. Even if we’re right about this, he may not have bought any of the stuff yet. That might be slated for later in the plan. The Sarge put in a call to Agent Nunez over at the FBI Field Office in Phoenix in the hope that he might be able to steer us in the right direction. We’re waiting for him to call us back. I figure if anyone would know about this stuff, it’s the FBI. If he calls us back and tells us he’s as much in the dark as we are about it, I don’t know what we’re going to do.

I see the Sarge hanging up the phone, and he doesn’t look all fired up. I’m guessing he didn’t get the news we were looking for.

“Sarge?”

“That was Agent Nunez. I think he’s going to stop taking our calls soon. He said that crypto-crap is a nightmare to trace: even if we find out where they’re getting it, there’s zero way of finding out who bought it. Each one of the coins or whatever you call them is designated by a serial number. Once you have the number, you’ve got the coin. There’s no record of who bought it. And since it doesn’t really exist, that number and the corresponding number in some computer server are all that proves the damned things exist. Who the hell buys this garbage? It’s not even real! How the hell does something that’s not even real become worth thirty-three thousand dollars a throw? Can someone tell me that?”

Don’t look at me. I don’t get it, either.

“Did he say anything useful?”

“Not really. He told me this is going to be a wild goose chase. He said the only one of these things that’s even on the regulatory agencies’ radar is that Bitcoin crap. They’re not even watching the other ones yet. As the price increases on the Bitcoins, you’re supposed to report the profits as capital gains for tax purposes. It doesn’t seem like a lot of people are doing that. LC and his friends may be onto something with this ‘virtual money’ bullshit. Nunez says it’s one hundred percent untraceable. He says they’ve got everyone from drug dealers to dot-com millionaires using this stuff to hide their assets and it’s only going to get worse.”

Cheery guy. Is it any wonder why people say FBI agents are all dour fuddy-duddies?

“So you’re saying we’re screwed?”

“As far as tracing the stuff is concerned? Yes! Damned computer bullshit! In my day, we had cash, checks, and credit cards! Why the hell we need a bunch of digital funny money to make our lives more difficult is beyond me! You young people never cease to ruin a good thing, you know that? You should’ve left well enough alone!”

“Hey, don’t look at me! I didn’t invent this crap! As broke as I’ve been the last couple of years, I’ve got cash and a debit card! All my credit cards got canceled!”
And that’s the truth. The sad, pathetic truth. Being flat broke puts an end to your credit. You don’t want to know what that’s like, believe me. It totally sucks.

“All right, what’s our next move?”

“What do you think, Rane? We wait. Wait for them to make the next move.”

And then we have to react to it. I was afraid he was going to say that. Why did I even ask? I really need to learn how to keep my mouth shut, don’t I?

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