What's Going On Here?

The noir adventures of Franklin and Turner, two former English Majors who teamed up to pool their knowledge of TV crime dramas to solve Boston's toughest cases.

How Did this Happen?: About this Blog
Current Case: #002 The Fuschia Falcon


The Accusing Parlor

The turnout at the deMontesque house was fairly impressive for short notice. This was good for me, I wanted to work a crowd today. Plus, even if I was wrong I'd sound right in a larger room; the hasty--and delayed--Google search had already confirmed my theory. As Alice entered, I ran my pipes:

"You're all probably wondering why I called you here. Good.

"When the dame here came to me first, I was admittedly distracted by the lamb's gams. This is probably why it took me so long to figure this one out. Broads kind of have that effect on me, I'll admit. Anyway, when I first cased the joint, I started to work on a theory. This was a little too focused to be your average smash-and-grab job. If anything, they knew what they were coming here for and how to find it. Meaning, they had to already know about the missing gemstone.
"Next, I needed to try and figure out the kind of person who could get into a place like this. Security ain't lax, but it's not exactly Fort Knox either. For that, I staged a break in: came here the other night and tried to climb in. I'm a pretty spry guy," I ignored a couple of scoffs, "but it was a challenge for me. This means the guy was either a pro, or he didn't actually climb in through the window.
"Now, when I met the chick of the house this morning, I discovered something. Hopefully, you're following the pattern that's developing. Either that, or I'm rambling again. So, before you cats all fall asleep, let me ask Alice something. This morning, you dropped your candy bar into a glass. Why'd you do that?"
The dame spoke up, "When I was little, my mom taught me to do that. Kept ants off my chocolate."
"Exactly. And what did we find when I started?"
"A candy bar in a glass. You told me that was the mark of some international art thief."
"The Sommelier, yes. Actually, that's french for Wine Steward. It was a red herring. No, the real thief," I pulled on a pair of sunglasses before continuing, "is actually in this room!"
The collection of gasps was rewarding. Only three, but still worth it.
"Even more shocking, the stolen rock wasn't actually the meat."
This got more gasps: almost everyone this time. Worth all the sawbucks in the world.
"See, I did some internet research on this missing gemstone, the Fuschia Falcon and I discovered something important: it doesn't exist. There are, however, a bunch of Smash Bros. screenshots that fit the description. This wasn't about the gemstone at all, was it, Alice?"
She faked surprise well. "What?"
"How much did you insure the gem for?"
"How much?"
"Ten grand."
"And how much will your insurance company be paying out?"
"Should be ten grand..."
"I wasn't asking you, I was asking him!" I turned and pointed to a stocky man in glasses and suspenders.
"Who's he?" Alice asked.
He introduced himself, "Bob Johnson. I represent your insurance company. To answer your question, Mr. Turner: Zero dollars. Thank you for figuring this out."

The only question I haven't answered yet: how do I tell Franklin that we're not getting a check for this one either? On the plus side, insurance company's letting me off on Accessory to Fraud Charges...


Am Not Wearing Cologne, Dammit!

I climbed out of the shower the next morning, washing away the fitful few hours of sleep while something about the case didn't sit right. Kept thinking to myself "were Franklin here, I'd be really freaked out; my bed's for chippies and chicks only. Also, what the hell am I going to tell the client? Have to wonder what's with this chocolate? Seemed to be a theme developing." That was perhaps a question to ask her at Licks'. Before leaving, I dressed and shaved, even checked that I'd have enough petty cash for a business expense like a pair of mid-morning milkshakes from the ice cream joint.

I pulled up a chair at the outside tables and waited for the skirt to arrive. She was late, as dames tend to be (and I've been slapped enough to learn that ya don't comment on this aloud). I couldn't help but stare at her legs as she walked over, and dropped her numerous bags beside the table, standing impatiently over me.
Casually, I prompted some conversation: "Been shopping?"
"Just a few things," the curt response, "You said you'd have something for me?"
"Uh, yeah. Drink?"
There was rising frustration in her tone. "That's all you have for me?"
"No, uh. The chocolate. Turns out it's a calling card. Some frog art thief or something. Calls himself, uh, the Sommelier."
She seemed relieved and sat down, pulling out a 100 Grand bar. She unwrapped it and started to chew.
Watched her for a second before she glowered at me. "Well?"
"Yeah, uh," I channeled every single one of Mrs. Thomson's Drama classes in the 3rd grade. "Well, turns out this guy is changing his MO a little. Instead of sticking to high class art, he's moving over to jewels. Story goes he was trained in a Ninjutsu monastery, uses his Kung-fu to break into a place and bust past security. Leaves half a chocolate bar as a consolation prize."
The bim was eating this up; so I left it at "And I'll find the bastard."

She rose, lifting the last bites of her candy bar over the table. "Want this?"
"Nah, I'm good."
It hovered over a glass in the middle of the table before she dropped it, "well, I'll leave it there in case you change your mind. So ants don't get in."
Suddenly, something snapped into place in my head. I had an announcement, and I felt like I needed everyone to be there.
"Gather your entire household in the trophy room tonight. How many people is that?"
"Me and my husband. The maid sometimes, but it's her day off."
"Get her, get some friends to join us in the accusing parlor!"
Despite her blank stare, I pulled my coat on and dashed back to the office.


It Takes a P.I. to Catch a P.I.

It was near midnight when the last light finally went out. I had parked my heap just beyond sight and staked out for my opportunity. If I knew anything about psychology, it was this: if you want to understand a bird, you've gotta walk a mile in his shoes. Seeing as I still didn't know our perp's brand, figured I'd fake it and try just walking as he did: on the night he stole the Fuschia Falcon!

Climbing the gate was a cinch, and without any guard dogs or night watchmen keeping an eye out, slinking across the grass was almost easier. Unfortunately, without the use of Franklin's flashlight, I was doing the cell-phone-as-a-light-source thing. I didn't even know I'd found the right window until I felt the warm interior air escaping through the broken window. I peered into the gloomy trophy room I'd been in earlier--it was empty; of people anyway, the furniture was still there. I searched the murky night for some way to shimmy in through the broken frame. Finally decided there was none, and hoisted myself in clumsily. I'd made it halfway through before losing my balance and crashing to the ground.

I was sure the noise had woken someone, there was an electric feeling in the air of something getting up. Cursing the lack of a partner, I hastily explored the room for anything I'd missed earlier. I re-checked the shelves and the upturned box on the floor. In the pale light of my phone, I noticed a smudge on it which I hadn't noticed earlier: it was the same brown as the wood, but in this light it didn't reflect. There was no way I could snap a photo of it, as my only camera was currently also my light source, but I could try one thing: I wiped a small part of it onto my finger and tasted it. Chocolate. I should have known.

The door burst open before I had a chance to try anything else, light flooding the room and obscuring the tasty evidence. It was the dame who'd hired me, standing in a half-open robe and, I'll say it, some really sexy lingerie.

"Turner? What the hell are you doing?" She asked, both frustrated and perplexed as she hastily closed her robe.
"Investigating." I said, with all of the confidence I could muster. "I'll, uh, have some answers for you in the morning. Can you bring some photos of your precious rock to JP Licks around 11? I may have something for you then."


Sept 1st Strikes Again

For those concerned, the Fuschia Falcon is not going by the wayside. There is hope yet, and after a daring break-in, er, recreation, I may have blown this case wide open. Or, I may just like saying that to seem like I know what's up. Either way, there's a small problem:
My case notes are somewhere in that pile...


The Peppermint Red Herring

After a quick tip from one of our readers last week, I did a little research on this bogus-sounding jewel, the Peppermint Rhinestone. Rumored to have disappeared from somewhere in JP over the last few weeks, this little rock is causing a bit of a problem for some of the other local dicks. Similar deal, but not from the deMontesque household--some folks from France or somewhere, Montagne or something.

Two gems taken in the same neighborhood in a short period of time. It's starting to sound a bit like there's a cat burglar prowling. I had heard something about one a little while back, maybe our gonif is back in town? Seems a little more likely than our Usual Suspects--pretty sure Busey and Glenn Beck are both away for now.

Not wanting to be late for a meet with Alice, I headed out to her place. "Best place to start is at the scene," I remember reading in a book once. Although I take that with a grain of salt, this was the same book that told me not everything comes out of a Pulp novel holds water. I say the best place to start is the end, but I guess the beginning will do in a pinch. I pulled into the driveway of the deMontesque house and locked my heap up. The place was far from a dump, and the inside looked even better. It was one of those places over by Pond Street, those really slick stacks of bricks with gardens in the fronts and fences made from something other than chain link between the neighbors. I flashed my ticket at the man who answered the door and stepped inside before he could protest--or even read it.

Alice appeared within a moment and told the man not to worry about me. He looked even more bewildered, but she whisked me toward the back of the house before he could string a question together. The room she lead me to had books scattered all over the floor and cabinet doors left open. There was an empty shelf, and a wooden box lay open, face down on the floor.
"This is where the Falcon was, I take it."
"Yes, until it was taken."
"Well, obviously. I'm guessing you have no idea who would want to do this."
"Yeah. No idea."
"Let me take a look around here."

The wooden box was maybe a foot square, four inches deep. Using the end of a pen, I pulled part of it up and looked under: thing was completely empty. I looked around the room for a point of entry. The window had been shattered, and I stuck my head out through the gap. It was only a few feet to the rosebush below. Easy to get in or out. As I stepped back, my foot crunched some of the glass deeper into the carpet.
"Whoever it was came in here," I observed, "Wanted it to look like a robbery, but the real target was the stone."
The blonde grinned ear to ear. "I knew I'd picked the right guys."
Real men never blush, so I didn't. "Glad I didn't disappoint."
I kept looking around the room. "Odds are he wore gloves, so fingerprinting would be useless. Only prints we'd find are, I'm assuming, yours and the stiff by the door."
"My Husband, yes."
"No cleaners, maids or anything?"
"Nope. None."
"Lovers?" I offered.
"No! I'm faithful."
Stubbed my toe on something and muttered a curse under my breath. It had been the edge of a bookshelf, and my foot had set all of the tchotchkes wobbling. A drinking glass on one of the upper shelves tipped like it'd gone over the edge with the rams, and went over the edge, spilling out onto the carpet. Only what was weird about this was that instead of water or a shot of white, it was a half-eaten candy bar. The glass shattered, flecks of it stuck in the chocolate.
"What was that?" deMontesque asked.
"Not sure. Candy bar in a glass."
"Maybe it's a calling card?"
I said nothing, but it was possible. I would have to do some research before I could come back to her with it. I suggested she locked the door and not let anyone in until I came back. Otherwise, the place seemed to check out, and it didn't look like I was going to get anything else out of it. Clambered back into the flivver and drove back to the office--had to get some dark slacks on and haul ass to my undercover gig.


The Fuschia Falcon

Those of you still checking in from time to time may have noticed a slight lag in service. Not to make excuses, but this is 'cause Franklin and I have been making headway on that Undercover Case we vaguely referenced a little while ago. Now that the op is winding down, we can share a little: We called it the Mystery of the Missing Money, and we posed as a pair of birds on the nut and on the dole, trying to find paying gigs. Due to witness protection and other legal mumbo-jumbo, we can't give you any more detail than that.

However, back to the babe who came in while Franklin and I were wrapping up the Firebug Case: did I mention the gams on her? Quite a dame she was. We lead her into the office and made her comfortable with a cup of coffee. She asked if we knew who she was, and we admitted she had the bulge on us there.

"Alice deMontesque," she introduced herself with a slight drawl.
I asked how we could help her on such a fine day.
"There was a robbery at my home last night, and something of incredible value was taken."
Franklin chimed in, "Why didn't you go to the Flatfoots with it?"
"Let's just say that we like our privacy at home."
"And what was taken?" I added.
"The Fuschia Falcon, a rare diamond from Russia."
Franklin and I looked at each other for a moment.
Hopeful, the dame asked, "So you've heard of it?"
"Nope, not at all, ma'am." Franklin replied.
"What's so special about it?" I threw in, pretending to know about jewels.
"It's known for its perfect clarity and a slight pink imperfection. It's embedded in a bird-shaped pendant."
"Where was it when you lost it?" Franklin continued.
She seemed a little puzzled, "I didn't lose it, it was stolen from our house over by Jamaica Pond."
I copied down the address.
"So, why pick us of all the dicks you could ask?" was Franklin's final question.
"I saw your work on the Arson case and knew you were the guys to see."

We left her in the office and chinned outside for a minute. Franklin had one problem, he needed a couple of weeks for a test, getting a permit for his bean-shooter. We need the case, and we needed a win, so I agreed to go it alone. It put me behind the eight ball, but there were men who'd climb Everest naked for a dish like her; I just had to find a necklace.


Coming Clean

So, readers and Mahoneys alike, by now you will have probably deduced that the JP Firebug case has gone colder than a penguin's junk. We've heard nothing new and have had now big breakthroughs. After Franklin and I turned down our third new client, I had to come clean to him about just how much money the Arson case would be bringing in. I'll spare you the expletives of his reaction, but the spit-take was quite impressive. Note to self: always give bad news when someone is drinking coffee.

Corollary: Always make sure they are unarmed when you do.

Yelling from the safety of behind the bathroom door, I suggested that we put the case on the back burner until it heats up again. Ignoring the double-barreled cliche, I continued, "We'll take another case, and this one won't be pro-bono. We'll actually get paid, I promise." The blunt thumping on the door stopped, and after a few moments I tentatively opened it.

Franklin was standing and staying at the woman who had just opened the office door, hiding the broken table leg behind his back. Blonde hair cascaded down her shoulders to her back, her legs stretched from the floor to her hips, and she was wearing a silk red dress. For no readily apparent reason, a breeze tossed her hair sensuously about.

"You boys the detectives?" She asked.
I corrected her that we were Private Eyes, and that we were there to help. We lead her upstairs to the meeting area and offered her some coffee. I cracked open the Case Laptop to take notes.

Then I got distracted and wrote this blog post. I should probably actually discuss the case with her... More after the actual meeting.


too Good to be Realty

The moon hung overheard like a glowing pocket watch as Franklin and I pulled the car up to the docks. Through the fencing, we could make out the outline of a flivver, and we knew this is where our meat was hiding out. Quietly, we pulled the Scarlet Solver into a space and killed the engine. A cold pizza and cups of coffee were all that accompanied us on this chilly evening. Inside the complex, there was a small building, or maybe a retrofitted shipping container, with a light on, and this Franklin and I watched intently. Hours passed slowly, and soon even rounds "I Spy" became monotonous.

Suddenly, there was slight movement just beyond the chain link. A knowing look passed between us, the pair of dicks in the car; Franklin and I were off like a shot. This was our one chance to bring the guy down ourselves, after that he would either be in the wind or in the cooler. So, we ran. Franklin, being the smaller of us, took a ten fingered boost over the fence, just grazing a hand on the barbed wire on top before dropping down and letting me in. We both channeled every tiger we'd ever seen stalking in the zoo as we tried to surround him. The silence roared in my ears, accented by the blood pumping rhythmically. There was a creak, one of us had hit a door or a wall or something. We heard running, and followed suit. I lost Franklin somewhere in the shipyard, but continued alone, fueled only by adrenaline.

He hadn't seen us coming, and was completely unprepared. He was a little faster than I, but I proved myself more agile. Eventually I gained on him and with a final charging leap I landed on his back, taking him to the ground with me. I called out for Franklin as I wrestled him into a submission hold. At our most defining moment, he looked me square in the eyes and said: "BBZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!!!!!!"

Slowly, I became aware not only of sunlight, but of birds singing faintly in the background. I looked beside me at the bed I had fallen out of and the pillow I now knelt triumphantly upon. Muttering to myself, I reached a series of conclusions: either Franklin and I had better hurry up and put this guy away, or I had better stop eating hard-boiled eggs and drinking shine before bed. I also realized that we needed some more information to work on, and someone who could help us figure out this division in our theories was a professor Books Mahony knew of at the local Brainbank, some University named after a compass direction. I would e-mail him directly.


A Lead in a Haystack

Saturday June 20th. Turner and I took a bite out of the dusty combo meal of knowledge and eccentric vagrants that is the Boston Public Library. Little did we know that it would come with a super-sized portion of McInsight and a 32oz cup of divisiveness.

After some bumbling in the McKim building, we found the sparsely-occupied microfilm room. We would have been quicker in divining the microfilm machines, but our associate Books Mahoney was occupied with a serious heart wound. She's recovered, thankfully, and the mug behind it all is on his way to a few years in solitary (i.e. Maine).

I pored over frame after frame of local news coverage from 2005 while Turner took a leap into the Net. And though his web was world wide, the one I began to uncover was more tangled than last year's Christmas lights.

2005 saw the (supposedly accidental) burning of the First Baptist Church on Centre St, and in its wake a slew of real estate squabbles that threatened to cool the gooey warm sense of community JP basks in - or at least severely irritate a fat gaggle of residents and readers. Nearly every issue I scoped contained a letter to the editor concerning tenants' rights, land disputes, and snipes between community groups. Issues of race and class were embedded in these like a slug lodged in a stiff's brainbox.

That summer brought heat waves of all sorts. There was the natural phenomenon itself, which, as any reader of Romeo and Juliet knows, portends nothing good. Then there were the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC) elections, which were fiercely contested. And, a week later, El Oriental de Cuba was firebombed. The more I read, the more I felt like a bachelor trying to figure out what had gone rotten in his fridge. My sniffer pointed at the fuzzy black mold gestating in last week's political leftovers.

Residents reported that El Oriental de Cuba was often the scene of debate over Cuban politics. They also mentioned that local suits in the public office held informal meetings there. While most denied that this could lead to such a despicable crime, there was further speculation on who the arsonist was actually trying to hit. Some said he was going for the tenants of the apartments above the shop - which is much more consistent with the pattern that would later emerge. Weeks later residents of a Paul Gore St apartment would submit a frustrated letter to the editor criticizing the JPNC. El Oriental is at the corner of Centre and Paul Gore; and JP Auto Body is just down the street. That has to mean something. The threads of a theory were there, but I didn't know how to crochet.

One thing I did know: though the M.O. was different, this was definitely the work of our bug. One man tried pursuing him after the fire at El Oriental started, and his description fits the surveillance from the Sigourney Street fires. But it was beginning to seem that he was just a puppet on a string held by a twisted group of puppeteers.

Further reading laid out yet more disputes over land and the elections. Reports of voter intimidation surfaced, coinciding with those from the '03 elections. There's not a clear connection (or else the case would be closed), but I was starting to think that somehow our shamuse was not operating solitarily on the revenge motive, and that there was some salt to the notion of this being the work of a gang of some sort. A gang potentially with friends in high places. And I'm not talking the Treefort Club, unless they own property or have their hands in electoral cookie jars.

Turner holds steadfast to the profile we've already developed - a solo flyer with a racial chip on his shoulder. I did read about a rash of arsons that occurred in the '70s and '80s, when our perp was still in his underoos. This follows the profile Turner researched, which suggests a prior influence from or fascination with fire setting. Still, I've got my hunches and he's got his. But perhaps it works better this way - with two different theories, we can keep each other sharp and steer clear of outright conspiracy over cold facts and observation.

We've got a lot of dots to connect and some sketches to color. Our time at the library also left us with a host of new contacts with whom we will be getting in touch. This thing's about as cold as a burning tire in July, so updates will be soon and maybe even regular.


Set a Course for Justice

It was good to see Franklin back from Hotlanta relatively unscorched, but we'd only run into each other on a few social occasions and the case was going cold as pizza left overnight. We needed to act fast, no matter how good a day-old pizza sounded. Hastily, we met to talk about where things stood and where to go next. It was an overcast but still nice day, and as the office wasn't covered in bees, we set up shop.

"When all leads seem dead, start at the beginning" is the kind of advice I'd expect a mentor to give me, if we'd actually be trained by one. So, we went back to the articles we looked at on Day One and the maps from Day, uh, Several. We knew we needed a snitch, someone who knew the area well and knew the cases better. We pulled a name from the local paper and vowed to at least shoot him an e-mail. If we got a slant of some of scenes, that might also work as some kind of a lead; failing that, there was always the library, the archives or the Buttons.

While looking through our old materials, we came across a mention of a Real Estate fire. This was news to me, Franklin was blank on it as well. We noted it down, but as the night air cooled we gathered our things to head into the Waiting room to finish; preferring to be hard-boiled, not frozen. Something caught Franklin's attention, and he demanded to see the Surveillance photos we pulled. Taking a closer look, there were a few things we saw:
  • This cat looks like he's fairly tall, in shape although not the most athletic chump, fairly dark hair, and what looks like muttonchops.
  • He had a duffel bag, in which he could easily keep a gas can and a few matchbooks, as well as the hat he pulled out by the fourth photo.
  • Putting the gas can in the bag, and either carrying or stuffing the tire in his bag, he wouldn't need to show up in a boiler at all. This, fits the profile we came up with.
  • He wasn't wearing anything thicker than a t-shirt. After some quick digging on the weather, we crabbed that the weather couldn't've been more than the 23 to 37 degree range--he must have been cold.
There was one thing about the profile that Franklin needed to hear a second time: These kinds of perps usually use matches which they leave behind, or lighters which they take with them. He considered this for a minute.
"It has to be the book." He said. I looked at him quizzically for a moment, so he continued. "If the guy is lighting the tires with a lighter, it would take longer--which isn't easy with a lighter." He was right, the more I thought about it. Lighters would force him to get close to the tire and hold a flame on the gas for a while; A matchbook, he could light the whole thing and toss it into the tire before dusting.

There was one small thing that caught my eye, not as much a lead as a hunch. Looking at the difference between the first three scene photos, and the last one, there is a slight change in our guy. He stands taller and has a slight air of pride. I don't feel like he's congratulating himself on a job well done, my hunch is he's stepping back to see his latest work of art unfold. Franklin says he could see the confidence, but I don't think you could quote either of us on that second part.

A few days later, I tried to contact our egg at the paper. He got back to me, saying he couldn't comment but suggested trying the paper's archive or the library. It seemed that all signs pointed towards Boston Public Library.


Hotlanta - Oddly Not an Arsonist Hideout

Franklin here, back from a brief stint in Atlanta. Turner and I are still hot on the trail of our perp, and will be providing an update later this week. Before that, a few words on my travels. In Hotlanta I was shacked up in the new drug and sex-slave trade capital of the country, Gwinnett County. Unfortunately, the only drug I saw was aspirin, and the only slaves were consumers. But, I was witness to more than a few crimes. Here's the skinny:

Crime #1
Date: May 16th
Scene: House party
Some unscrupulous vandal tossed his cookies mid-conversation. My quick reflexes allowed me to dodge the spray, but the tile floor was not so lucky. I had a motive tagged to the guy before he even made it to the bathroom: Papa Stalin Vodka.

Crime #2
Date: May 22nd
Scene: A Room as Dark as the Night is Long
I was watching the new Star Trek flick. No complaints there. What's the crime? Zoe Saldana's getaway sticks glommed my ticker.

Crimes #3 & #4
Date: May 28th
Scene: G-Braves Stadium
Reports on the quality of a local baseball team were substantiated. But the establishment has a long way to go in theft prevention: $8.00 for a chili-cheese dog looks like highway robbery to me. Got to see Tom Glavine pitch holes through Cleveland's team before he was to move up to the major league Braves. Few days later an informant contacted me. Turns out he got sacked not long after the game. In a town of raw deals, Glavine was just handed a plate of sushi.

Crime #5
Date: May 30th
Scene: A Wretched Hive of Scum and Villainy
Dames and eggs, such is the state of our tattered union: we Bay-staters enjoy reliable public transportation, clean politicians, and a uniform distribution of wealth, while in a secluded dump south of ATL, the conditions are simply medieval. I saw mugs and dolls alike carrying 36-inch shivs in broad daylight. Janes walking about advertising their wares like they were on eBay. Folks riding on horses instead of boilers. And the chow was barbaric: giant turkey gams and slabs of meat on sticks were hot items. The brew was alright. Most appalling of all was the state-sanctioned murder: At the end of the day, the mayor of the joint oversaw a duel. A duel that ended in the Big One. I was among the helpless onlookers encouraged to choose between the two contenders. Most of the crowd's support went to a regular roundheels; my guy definitely had the bulge on him. Or so I thought. Real quick-like he took a shiv across the throat, and that was that. Disgusted, I took a bunk and turned my better side to the Dirty Dirty forever.

Now that I'm back, expect updates to be more regular. Thanks to Turner for flying solo at the desk for a while.


New Informant Network

Well, again there aren't a lot of developments on the case. Still have to get a meeting with Franklin in soon as we can get some booze together.

However, one somewhat exciting development is that we've tapped into a larger network of Boston-based informants. This will get us some more readers--and hopefully some more leads--as well as getting us closer to upcoming cases. Be sure to check them out using the banner to the right.

If you're checking us out for the first time, don't just stand there in the doorway like a palooka, say something. If you've been here before say something anyway.


The Mind Trap

As I mentioned last week, one of the problems with Arson cases is that the physical evidence is often destroyed by the crime itself. What isn't destroyed, however, are the things we can infer based on what he does--or has to do--to pull the crime off. There are shrinks who make most of their dough doing this kind of jazz. Remember that before we took the case, Franklin and I knew about as much about Arsonists as we do about violins (which isn't much: they're stringed instruments you play with a bow).

What they find about these mugs is that they're generally unmarried men around 27 years old, and they travel solo--few if any friends, and none they'll confide in. They feel like the city has betrayed them, or that they're the mark in some crazy con--which makes them a little more dangerous than your average firebug. They're seeking some kind of revenge for a sleight they feel--which may or may not be real. Don't get us wrong, the guy isn't a total boob--most Revenge-based arsonists are well educated, but he still works a pretty menial job.

There's also a chance they've tried to pull the Dutch act, or have some psychological history; not to mention odds are good they have a criminal record. Probably also huge fans of the giggle juice, may even seek some confidence from the stuff (looks like Centre Street Liquor may be safe). They know their scenes well, usually within two miles of their home or work--and odds are very good (As we've discerned with this case) that he has a car. These cases also tend to be intra-racial--so in our case he probably feels like the grifters were the Hispanic residents of our fair neighborhood. What is also interesting is that most of these kinds of hotheads won't stick around to watch their fire, but they'll be back the next day to check their handiwork over.

The standard profiles more or less back up what we've got, and adds a few new elements to the mix. We have his history of addle-brainedness and a possible criminal past. A taste for alcohol, and the education. It's also pretty likely that he was using a lighter, as these jobbies are as likely to drop a matchbook on the ground as they are to breathe.

Here's a photo of the perp in action, courtesy of BPDNews.com

Recommended Reading:


Real Men Never Say Sorry

A strange week it has been. The case has definitely not gone cold, yet, and the trail is far from gone. Just between a couple of side-projects and some unlucky breaks, I for one haven't had a chance to sit down like a real dick and get some legwork done. Tough breaks? How does locking myself out of the apartment and a broken computer grab ya?

Wednesday morning, I was at my desk job by the time I realized the keys weren't in my pocket where I usually keep them. Their location was a mystery, but I am a professional. A little thinking lead me to remember that they were on the mantel at the office. Unfortunately, Tiny "Bling" is out of town and Dreads Mahoney had already legged it to work. When I got to the office, the doors were all locked, and I couldn't make an effective lock pick out of what was in my bag. I pondered grabbing a ladder and climbing up to the deck front office. But in the end decided to go visit Nervous Mahoney in her new place until Dreads got back.

The following night, last night, I had planned to work on what police head quacks call "psychological profile". A lot of people think the whole science is a load, but with arson cases most physical evidence is destroyed by either the crime or by fire crews. Anyway, that had been the plan, and perhaps some filing that needs to be done. Instead, while putting in an update, the Office Computer stopped working, so I ran down to a contact of mine at the Genius Bar. While I was out, ran into some friends from out of town. Did some light research, but nothing yet substantial.

All of this has nothing to do with the case. Maybe I'm making excuses, maybe this whole entry was a trip for biscuits. Either way, real men don't apologize.


The Silver Bullet

With Franklin out of town, I knew that if I didn't get some work on this case, it would grow cold. Cold like the pizza I kept in the fridge overnight. So, I started with some quick research on Forensic Psychology--a few episodes of Criminal Minds I'd been saving--not sure if it was paranoia the research was inflicting or that Lady Luck just gave me a good hand that day, but I found myself on Google Maps again scouring it like a madman. I had something here: Gas stations. If he's using tires and gasoline to make fire, then he is getting them from somewhere. You have to ask yourself, how easy is it to get your mitts these things? All it takes to get a can of gas is a can and a gas station: pull your heap into the station, put the can on the ground and you got a few gallons of 85. Tires, you can probably get, no questions asked, from an auto body or tire store: just say you're putting 'em on yourself (obviously not on yourself, but by yourself maybe).

So where are there gas stations and auto body shops in the Plain? I kicked myself for letting Franklin take the notes and the map when I saw him last, so I noted some down to add later. I was going to hang with Books Mahoney later that evening, and she would be able to return the map. Books, Mix Mahoney and I spent the evening working on another case: Who at Fox Studios was so determined to see the X-Men series fail? Who profits? What happened to Shatner in Abrams' Star Trek?

In the cold light of morning, I went back to the maps. I drew the gas stations in red--maybe a poor choice--and the tire or auto body shops in green. Adding them to the map, I got this:

I then noticed something interesting and circled it: There is a gas station and an auto body shop right next to each other. A pump stand called Hatoff's and a garage that goes by CarStar--according to Google. Convenient location if our boy was in a hurry, isn't it. That's when something else hit me like an idiot's car door into a biker: He was in a hurry on one occasion, wasn't he?

He was hitting places regular for a few months and then stopped, but there was one exception: January 28, Maria's Salon. If you took that one out, it would almost seem like clockwork, hitting towards the beginning of the month in December (the 11th), January (the 6th) and February (the 7th). Which means maybe something got him a little jingle-brained on before the 28th.

He'd have to be on the swift to rush a plan together, and maybe that means he'd have to swing by the corner of Washington and Rockvale, which looks like his personal shopping mall from where I'm sitting. If I've got the right slant on this: Between the 7th and the 28th, he must have heard something about Maria's that set him off, and must have started planning then--The one-a-month thing seemed to be working out for him otherwise.

Something caught my eye then, and I marked a small X on the map. The spot I circled was about the same distance from that point as all of our scenes seemed to be. Odds are that our meat lives near there: he'd probably have a base of operations there he could be at day or night, like maybe his house. I thought maybe he'd take a day off work in that few weeks, but I don't know about that. I also don't know what he took a month off in March. Maybe he thought the heat was on, waited for it to cool? What I do know is that to stay ahead of the buttons, he'd have to be smart and organized. My hunch is, he would plan this out. If we're right, he's been at this a while.

What else I know is that I could go for a sandwich. Later, chumps.


The Night that Disappeared

Franklin here. More educated speculating (has a nice ring to it, right?) last night.

We were forced to use the back office again since the light's still out in the front. At least in the back the lighting was appropriately seedy. Fincher-esque, even. Armed with beers, we looked into a tip from Ninja Mahoney about the distance and chronological pattern of the fires. Noticed that there is somewhat of a counterclockwise motion - beginning at El Oriental de Cuba in July 2005, southward to the hair salon, then around and back to the autobody shop this past April. There are two anomalies, though - the perp hit the hair salon three times, and the Sigourney St. condos twice, once after lighting up a house on School St. The pattern is not linear, but the investigation provided us with a few insights and a few new questions:

1) There is likely a relationship between our firebug and the owner of the hair salon. Our hunch is that the perp is trying to punish them for some sort of continued behavior - also the case with the autobody shop. If the crimes are indeed racially motivated, he could simply be telling these people to close up, or else. This would explain why there were multiple attacks on the hair salon, which reopened each time. Same story with Sigourney St, a well-known site of a property dispute.

2) Assuming that these are all the work of one man and not any copycats, the firebug struck in '05, '06, '08 and '09. Where was he in '07? Cooling off in the hoosegow? Down and out in Paris and London?

3) The crime scenes make a radial pattern, suggesting that our man could be centrally located between them. The distance between sites indicates that a car had to have been used to transport the tires. We considered the possibility of his using a rental vehicle, but the specificity required by most rental organizations would be detrimental to one's alibi. This also brings up the question of a partner - does he have a wheelman?

We then thought about the hood himself, tried to stir up a profile of some sort. The one time he was caught on surveillance he appeared to fit the late 20s - mid 30s white male profile pretty well. We don't think he's striking at random. Specific motives means he's a JP resident, and has been since at least '05. Probably has his finger on the pulse of the community, but certainly isn't a good doctor. Not outspoken. Not interested in killing - or else he would've attacked the homes of the business owners. If you're going to go through the effort to bump someone off, you'd probably be willing to tail them home. As for the School and Sigourney St. sites, no one was injured in those fires. He just wants to get some sort of message across.

Towards the end of the conversation it started to get chilly in the office. We deduced that it was because the heat's broken. It'll probably stay that way. No one said this job has luxuries, and that no one was a dirty liar.

We share the office space with Dreads Mahoney and a shady figure named Tiny "Bling" Mahoney. While Turner and I made some more dead soldiers in the reception area, Dreads periodically contributed to our conversation, though she had some smut to write. All I can say is even our detecting skills can't figure out some of the choices Zack Snyder made in the Watchmen movie. Tiny lurked in late in the game and proffered up his maltese hookah. Knowing we might have to enlist his talents later, Turner and I kept on his good side and accepted. From there the evening vanished in a cloud of smoke.

I'm off to Atlanta to take care of some business (in the tune of a keg of beer and the Renaissance Festival). Turner has homework to do while I'm away, so keep your eyes peeled for the update. Then put some lotion on them so you can read it.


One For the Books

I was finishing up some dinner when someone rapped on the back door. It was of course Franklin with a book and some beer. Time was here to get down to some serious gumshoeing, and so we went out to the main office with some papers I'd drawn up for the occasion. A few seconds out there, we realized we were not alone: we had stumbled into a Battle of the Bees that can only be described as epic--in the Homeric tradition. One was hovering above the desk, dripping a strange liquid, another hiding out in the gutter, somewhere beyond the porch there was a third. Franklin and I made a clean sneak and decided the back office might be better.

Setting up the deck office chairs, we got to work; a cool breeze blowing the cigar smoke away from us while we talked shop. There is an arsonist still at large in Jamaica Plain, having hit five scenes since December. I came to the discussion with some notes, and here's what I figured:
  1. All of these cases have the same MO: a gasoline-soaked tire starts the blaze.
  2. One of the locations (which was hit twice) had an ongoing housing dispute.
  3. Slices of toast are terrible witnesses, but make an excellent breakfast. Interrogated one for seemingly obvious connection, knew nothing. Sent downtown on unrelated charges.
Seemed to me a possible angle was vigilantism: someone was tracking down social issues and making a thing of them; although I wasn't convinced they'd put the curse on anyone--thinking instead the object was the message and the damage. Franklin's gut told him there was something else, and he tossed in a racial motive. At first, I wasn't sold, but we kept it on the table.

We started by filling in a map of the fire locations over some brews. I had one printed from Google which covered the area I thought most of them were. Using local sources, we painted a picture of a neighborhood in flames.

Local Sources:
We quickly realized that this has been going on for a lot longer than the past six months. Some quick research turned up some more:
Clearly, this was a little bigger than we expected, and I was starting to buy into the race theory. Most of the names mentioned in the articles were of Hispanic origin, all of them were those affected by these fires. One that seemed like the anomaly was the original fire at Maria's Salon, which had a different MO than the others. Our theory, assuming that these are not copycats, is that the original arson was a sort of experiment for our boy, and that the tires were a later addition--some might say an evolution.

We felt it was a good moment to take a break for some real hard vice. So we went through a half dozen vegan peanut butter cookies I'd baked the night before.
That's when a beep sounded from Franklin's pocket, and he spent a few minutes on the horn with his dame while I filled in the calendar with some dates. Despite misreading one of the Franklin's notes on the map, I did notice a pattern develop over the last few months. With the exception of March, there has been at least one fire every month since December. Which means three things:
  • Something set him off, what Forensic Shrinks refer to as a "Stresser"
  • Something stopped him in March.
  • The Boys in Red have been kept busy.
Not that the last note helps at all, but the Firefighters deserve credit.

There was a moment of panic when I smelled burning, and we thought that the arsonist had already tracked us here, to our office. Then I remembered we were still smoking cigars--those things'll kill you.

One other angle we needed to explore was where he was getting these tires from, and how he was transporting them. If he is getting them from a junkyard, which junkyard? My initial take on the Auto Body Shop was that it was an anomaly and he used it to restock on tires--however, uncovering the other articles proved that the houses were the anomalies. So the big questions we were left with were:
  • Where was he getting the tires, and how was he lugging them?
  • What is the connection? If it is race, how was he choosing targets?
Having reached what we felt was a suitable place for the evening, we threw back another few beers and talked for a while. We tried to figure out if Boston was surprisingly grungy for a clean city, or if it was the other way around. As night fell on the city, the chick next door started an art project--she called up to us once about how we looked like we drank from the same bottle; we told her that this is because we're partners, in solving crime. Then we headed into the waiting room for some research on race relations: Die Hard With a Vengeance.


Justice is a Game -- These Are the Rules:

A post for future reference. Notes that will come into play in later cases. Rules that any detective worth his salt should be aware of.
  1. Eliminate your Usual Suspects first. Our Usual Suspects:
  • Gary Busey
  • Tony Blair
  • Uwe Boll
  • The Jonas Brothers
  • Whoever invented Survivor
  • Ashton Kutcher
  • Glenn Beck
  • Fox News
  • All of Fox' "and Friends" (i.e. known associates)
  1. Communism is a red herring
  2. Butler always did it
  3. Conspiracies always go back to involvement with the Nazi Aliens
  4. Dinner Parties are iffy: if held in a mainland home, you will have to solve a murder; if on an island, you will probably die
  5. Holmes once said "when everything logical has been eliminated, whatever's left, no matter how improbable, must be the truth." Therefore, save time and start at the improbable.
  6. There is no such thing as a vacation. Someone will probably die the moment you start unpacking your flip-flops, and you'll be reluctantly roped in.
  7. Use as much Pulp Slang as you can: http://www.miskatonic.org/slang.html

Enough of the Arson Holes

Guess this is where I come in. Franklin's the name. Turner and I did some work back in the English department at NU. Mostly Victorian in nature. He contacted me the other day about this arsonist burning up our neighborhood. Reward sounded pretty easy on the ears. Looking at my student loan statement could be deadly for the faint of heart - so I said what the hell. Someone's gotta stick up for the good people of Jamaica Plain. Besides, Centre Street Liquors could be hit next. And then there'd be real hell to pay.

Turner supplied the office space, I'm supplying the vice enablement. Case should be pretty open-shut - what else do you do with cases, after all? Half-shut them? We may be broke, but we ain't stupid.

The Wages of Intrigue

Boston, Massachusetts. A city of education, history, and recently, of fire. I saw the story in the day's paper, and it captured my imagination like an inhumane bear trap: Five arsons in my home of Jamaica Plain, a neighborhood as wild as the Jurassic era. The most recent, an auto body shop I had passed once or twice on foot. A few minutes of research later, it hit me like the blonde girl I called "sweet cheeks" the other day. I contacted Peter Franklin, the man who would be my partner, and filled him in on the details: there was a $5000 reward for this guy. Franklin pointed out that we would need a few things, such as vices, fedoras and an office. The porch was recently set up, so i suggested we start there. What follows is a record of our logs, case notes and meeting minutes.

I knew that tracking the perp down would be a difficult task, like playing Guess Who with a phone book, but I knew that between us we had seen enough police dramas and detective films that we just might be able to pull it off.


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