It Came from…

orb

Life imitates art, which imitates life, which then imitates art in what seems to be a never-ending cycle.  Orwell’s 1984 came around, late, but it came around. Contemporary (as opposed to historical) thriller novels were transformed by the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. Arthur Bremer’s diary was the inspiration for the film Taxi Driver which in turn inspired the actions of John Hinckley, Jr. which to this day has launched variations of jokes about Jodie Foster. And so it goes.

Accordingly…submitted for your perusal, here is an article with an embedded video  regarding a discovery made off of the California coast. Please take a moment to read the article and particularly to watch the video, which looks like a mashup of The Blair Witch Project and Alien. We’re going to base our exercise of the day around this, but you will be mightily entertained by the article and video, regardless.

The video spooked me badly for a couple of reasons. The first is the resemblance of that orb to a spider egg. Contrary to the assertion made by one of the scientists, “most” spiders don’t carry around the eggs on their stomachs. Many, though not the majority, wrap the evil little demon spawns in silk and hang them in webs, though if they are smart they don’t do it at my house. So…where did that thing come from? The second is the reaction of Little Sebastian to the egg. Sebastian at first appears to be curious, then frightened of the orb, more frightened than he was of the duct taped suction on the end of the ten-foot pole that the team used to, probably unwisely, suck that thing up. Put it in a biobox? You bet! And who gets to open it? I won’t suggest anyone, other than to note that John Hinckley, Jr. appears to have been released from custody just in time to do the job. The thing just looks…wrong: the color, the location… that video looks like the beginning of any one of a hundred science fiction films where after a half-hour of buildup things go badl, where the folks who are happily chatting and giddy-up giddy with the joy of their discovery are suddenly gouging their own and each other’s’ eyes out and getting ready to release God knows what upon a world that should be expecting it but which remains totally clueless and unprepared.

And that is where today’s exercise comes in, my friends. Tell us what happens after the team sucks the orb up, like one of those vacuum things they sell in the catalogs showing the smiling woman vacuuming the giant spider off of the curtain from a discreet, Hartlaub-approved distance. Be scary, funny, happy, or sad. Here are a few of mine:

— It is discovered that the orb is a  lost extraterrestrial artifact. The ETs, not being European, have never heard of the principle of abandonment and they want the orb back. Now.

— The vacuum sucks the orb up, revealing a drain. The ocean level starts dropping.

— The act of jarring the orb sets off a signal which is transmitted to an extra-orbital missile launching station, which slowly begins to turn toward earth..

—Suddenly, the sound of trumpets is heard simultaneously at all points on Earth. Then the clouds part and a bright light appears.

— At least three different groups blame the project for contributing to global warming and demand research money to counteract the effects. Facebook goes crazy.

— The crab scuttles back to its lair, where a female voice is heard asking, “What’s wrong, Sebastian?”

— The crab, after a series of events and mishaps, finds itself in the mustache of a biker on a Harley doing 80 mph on I-10 E out of Houston. The crab tells the biker what is happening and convinces him to turn around and save the day, but…what? Oh, sorry. Wrong crab. Forget that one.

You get the idea. Be serious. Be playful. Be whimsical. But please be creative. And share. We have the nine year old antichrist with us today so I may be awhile getting back to you but I shall do so eventually. Thank you.

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You Wouldn’t Believe What’s Out There…

DetectivewithMagnifyingGlass-300pxcomputer

It has been stated  repeatedly that information is the new currency. Mystery and thriller authors and readers have known that for decades. What is a clue, if not a piece of information? What is new is the ability of anyone — and I mean anyone — with internet access and a bit of deductive reasoning to discover quite a bit about someone else, without paying a private investigator to do so or getting down and dirty themselves and going through someone’s garbage the night before the scheduled pickup. I’m not talking about one of those pricey subscription services, either. I’m talking about what you can get from the comfort of your home with a smartphone or a tablet. Those of us of a certain age are familiar with the gumshoe — Mike Hammer comes to mind —who had a contact at the courthouse, or the phone company, who is an inside source of inside knowledge. These days it just takes a few keystrokes.

If you are writing contemporary detective fiction your protagonist can use these sources quite easily. So can you, for that matter, for your own benevolent reasons. The following are the most widely and readily available:

Google Search: This may seem obvious, but it’s just a starting point. It doesn’t contain everything, by any means, and may also give you too much information. If I can’t find precisely what I am looking within the first two or three pages of search results I look elsewhere, such as

Facebook: It may seem trite but Facebook can be a wealth of information. I have seen couples who I know play out their domestic problems in Facebook posts. Ouch. On another occasion, I was considering an extended period service contract with a gentleman — payment up front — until I read some of his wife’s posts, in which she repeatedly described the financial problems her husband’s business was experiencing. It did not instill confidence, nor did her demonstration of her inability to operate the governor between her thoughts and her fingers. I went elsewhere.

While we are talking about Facebook: it’s a criminal’s dream (so is Twitter), particularly with respect to those folks who can’t travel more than five miles from home, eat anywhere besides McDonald’s, or use the commode without telling the Universe where they are, like, RIGHT NOW, and what they are doing. Some unsolicited advice: wait until you get home to spread the news about how interesting you are. Otherwise, you are advertising that your home is empty and waiting to be burglarized while you are busily telling the world that you are engaging in conspicuous consumption.  Ask your local police department (or better yet, your insurance agent) if you think that I am kidding. Much of what is available online is put there by government agencies, and you can’t opt out. It’s there. Keep in mind that what you voluntarily put on Facebook can be viewed by anyone, be it your spouse or significant other (or both!), and a prospective or current employer, customer, or client.

County auditor/assessor office websites: this would be the office that collects your real property tax. While I have come across a couple who charge a fee for access — particularly in California — the overwhelming majority of the ones that I have accessed are free. It is a great way to get an up-to-date address for someone. If someone owns several pieces of property in a county, check to see where the tax bill is sent. That is almost certainly where they actually live.

City, county, and probate clerk of courts websites: Do a name search on these sites to see if your person of interest is sued or being sued, has had criminal charges brought against them, has a lead foot when driving, has a history of divorce, has taken out a marriage license, or has warrants or civil judgements outstanding against them. You don’t need to be an attorney to search most of these sites, and most are free. Some jurisdictions do charge a fee and/or limit access to attorneys — again, California — and some don’t have online access at all but that number is dwindling.

Cell phone records: Not everyone is aware of it, but you can access your own cell phone records — or the records of family members who are on your family plan — online once you setup your account. This ability is not without benefits. Several years ago my younger son had his cell phone stolen by a customer from the restaurant where he was working (long story). He called and told me fifteen minutes after it happened. I logged on and discovered that the perp was already calling people. I started calling the same numbers, telling them to call their friend back and tell him that he had thirty minutes to return the phone or I would hunt him down like a dog (yes, I could have called the thief directly but doing it this way seemed more sinister). The phone was returned within a few minutes. Now, of course, one had an app for such things but not everyone loads it or knows how to do so.

As for what is NOT out there: I have yet to find a good online directory for cell phone numbers in general or reverse directories. I recently attempted to find a friend that I had been out of touch with for over forty years. He didn’t have much of an internet presence so I wound up checking the real property tax records in the county where he had lived when I knew him. He was still there. I tried to get phone numbers for him online and got four — four — all of which were outdated or no longer valid. I wound up mailing him a letter and heard back from him. Sometimes, I combination of old and new works best, as Loren Estleman demonstrates on an annual basis in his immortal Amos Walker series.

Does anyone else have other websites they know of, that detectives, fictional or otherwise, can use? And, better yet, does anyone have interesting stories resulting from their use of such websites?

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