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Vacation Week / Born Loser, Chapter Two

I'm taking a break from this blog for the week, so I'm posting sample chapters from my latest book, Born Loser.  If you missed Chapter One, go back to Monday's post and catch up.  Or just go to and buy the whole thing.  (Only three bucks for the Kindle version - it's totally worth it.)

Chapter Two

Of course, he didn’t come right out and say he wanted to rob a bank.  That would’ve been stupid.  Nobody would’ve agreed if he did that.

No, he knew he’d have to seed the idea and build from there.  So he brought it up as a hypothetical one day, maybe six months or so after he became a regular.

“Have you guys ever thought about what it would be like to commit the perfect crime?” he asked.  He may have been an expert at mind games, but he was a shitty actor that day.  His tone was all wrong.  He had that overly eager cadence, like a guy trying to convince his wife to try anal.  Gee, honey, I don’t think I could ever put it in there.  How about you?  Under what circumstances?

“What does that mean?” Sarah asked, her suspicion raised. She was as much a counter to Drew as anyone could hope for. For all the talent Drew might have had at bluffing and deception, Sarah’s bullshit detector was in prime condition.

“Just, you know… the perfect crime.  Like, if you were going to commit a crime – and let’s not say that anybody is – what would you do?  And how?”  Seriously, honey, butt sex must hurt!  …unless you have a tub of lube, which I just happen to have right here.

It was a full house that night.  The regulars, plus Lacey and – of course – Drew.  While Drew sat there assured of his victory, the six of us secretly debated whether it was a ploy to distract us from some other gambit he was about to unleash or if it was a real question.

Then again, he already had enough Victory Points to win.  I opted for the latter.

“I’d steal a candy bar,” I said.  “Low stakes.”

This got a laugh from Lacey.  Beautiful women like to laugh just the same as any others.  Most of the time, it’s the only way a guy with a gut like mine can make any headway.  So, all in all, it was a good night so far.

Drew didn’t think it was so funny.  He rolled his eyes and said, “No, I mean a real crime.”

“What do you care?” I asked him.  “Are you doing research?”

He shrugged.  “Just curious.”  Drew was a freeform legal assistant for the city by day and a law student by afternoon.  As he was always happy to share, he spent most of his time working at the District Attorney’s office, so he had more than enough real-world anecdotes to satisfy his lust for pulp fiction premises.

I told him as much.  And then I added, “Something tells me you aren’t the one we ought to admit any kind of intent to.”

“I’m not a cop,” he said, his voice thin.  He usually got tired of me by some point in the night.  It was a little early though – not even nine o’clock yet.  “I can’t arrest you.”

“But you’ve got cop friends.”

“Jesus, it’s just a question.  Pretend it’s a game if it makes you feel any better.”

“Embezzlement,” said Lacey.  She pointed toward Mark.  “Don’t fire me.”

Mark just rubbed his chin and leaned in.  “This should be good.”

“Well,” she looked to Sarah for permission to continue.  Sarah was waiting with an eager ear.  “I have all those checks in my desk for inventory, right?  So I could easily just draw funds from the company.”

“But then I’d check the expenses later,” said Sarah.

“And she’d show me the books,” added Mark.

“Right.  So, I wouldn’t make the check to myself.  I could set up a shadow company and tell you that I’m buying shipping supplies from them.  Then I just have to write the checks for a little bit more than the boxes cost.  So now I have four thousand dollars in checks and three thousand dollars’ worth of boxes, right?  As long as I bring the boxes into work, it all looks good.”  Lacey smiled.

“You’d have to pay taxes on your shadow company, though,” said Sarah.  “And eventually we’d want to know why we’re spending so much on boxes.”

“Yeah,” Mark said.  “What she said.”

Lacey waved her hands as if drawing a diagram on an invisible whiteboard.  “The taxes are just a payment to keep things above board so I don’t get shut down.  But you wouldn’t really notice the difference between three thousand and four thousand dollars every few months.  It gets washed out in all your other expenses.  So I could just do that for a couple of years and make a few grand without really doing that much extra than what I’m already doing.”

Then she looked to me and flashed her smile.  “Low stakes,” she said.  “That’s the best way to do it.”

“Guess we oughta check our supply expenses!” Mark laughed, nudging Sarah.

She did not seem amused.  “This is a terrible game,” she said.  “Let’s talk about something else.”

“What about something with higher stakes?” said John.  He had been having a string of rotten luck lately.  Today he was dead last – an unusual position.  “How about something with a bigger reward?”

Sarah uttered a disgusted scoff and rose from the table.  “I’m going to get a drink.  Let me know when you guys are done with this.”

“Oh, they’re just playing,” Clara said, following her into the kitchen.

So it was just the guys again, with Lacey hanging on as the sexy tomboy.  Our circle gathered closer around John as Drew prodded him on with a sly, “Yeah?  What kind of reward?”

“Hell, I don’t really know,” he said.  “Something bigger than a few grand and a candy bar.  You’d need to plan something with low enough risk that you don’t get caught, but a big enough payoff that you only have to do it once.”

“Like rob a bank?” Drew said.

“Seems a bit high risk,” John said.  “That’s not really what I meant.”

“I wasn’t talking about your bank,” said Drew.

John was a facilities engineer at the Premier National Bank downtown.  As a facilities engineer, his typical day included such illustrious duties as: scraping bird shit off the statue out front, wiping shit off the windows, mopping shit off the floor, and unclogging shit in the restrooms.

I hope I don’t sound like I’m belittling the man.  Hell, I might as well have been a custodian, too, for as much as my help desk certificate was serving me.  John probably made as much as I did and he was at least lucky enough to belong to a union.  I never knew custodians even had a union until I met him.

“I was thinking about some of that white-collar shit,” John said.

“I already said ‘embezzlement,’” said Lacey.  “You have to pick something new.”

“Fine.  How about inside trading or something?  You make a big score, but you get enough other people involved to diffuse the blame.  Something like that.”

“You know much about stocks?” Mark asked, more interested than he should have sounded.

“Some.  I’ve picked up a little here and there at the bank.”

“Oh, bullshit.  Like how?  You’re reading reports while you empty out wastebaskets?” Drew said.

“Screw you.  You learn a lot of things if you keep your head up,” John said.  Then, more quietly, he added, “Maybe try pulling it out of your ass sometime and you’ll see.”

That pretty much brought the evening down.  We moved on to a game of Eminent Domain and everybody went home early.  A real shame.  I had barely even gotten through my third glass of Mark’s scotch.


It was a few weeks later when somebody brought it up again.  This time, it was just me, Mark, Clara, and Lacey.  And of all people, Clara’s the one that brought it up.

“You know how you guys were talking about the perfect crime awhile ago?” she asked over a hand of poker.  (Yeah, just plain five-card poker.  What can I say?  Some nights you want filet mignon, some nights you want a cheeseburger.  Poker’s not off the table.  So to speak.)

I reminded her: “Drew was talking about it.”

“Whoever.  I was thinking about it a little bit.  I think I’ve got a good one.”

“Oh, yeah?” Lacey perked up.  “I gotta hear this.”  She folded – just outright folded, even though there was no ante to her – in order to give Clara her undivided attention.

“Okay, well, it’s not a crime specifically.  It’s more of a process.”

Lacey was a little disappointed.  I couldn’t let that stand.  “Let’s say it’s a diamond heist,” I said.  That got her attention – she smiled again and leaned in for the next word.

“Sure,” said Clara.  “A diamond heist.  That’s perfect actually.  So, suppose you’ve just robbed the diamonds and you shove ‘em in just an ordinary brown bag or something, right?”

She folded in order to get both hands free to gesture.  Mark and I exchanged a confused smirk, and then I raised a dime.  Clara held up one hand as if she had a lunch baggie full of diamonds, and then held her the other an arm’s length away, grabbing something out of the air.

“The cops are going to know that you’ve got the diamonds in this bag,” she said, bouncing the lunch sack.  “So you get a dummy bag over here,” now she brought her other hand over and swapped out the lunch bag with some other invisible thing, “and trade it for the real thing.”

“That’s just a simple con, though,” Lacey complained.  “Anybody can do that.”

“Yeah, that’s what I was thinking,” said Clara.  “So, the next part is where you make it more complex.  You take the diamond bag and you run it off to a drop-off, right?” She mock-dropped the bag to her left.  “And now your accomplice comes and snatches it, then divvies it out into three other packs.  Right?”  She grabbed fistfuls of emptiness out of her imaginary drop-off, and parceled them out to everybody at the table.  “And then you’ve got three runners who take those packs and split up.”

“So now the cops have to chase down three thieves instead of one,” said Lacey.

“No – they won’t be chasing the runners.  They’ll still be after me, because I have the brown bag.  I’m the one that they want.”

“By the time they figure out there’s a switch, you’ll already be two steps ahead,” Lacey said.  Her voice was growing with the excitement that she got whenever she found out who the Seer was in Werewolf.

I think that’s probably what did me in.  Here was Clara just rambling about some ambiguous non-crime switcheroo, and Lacey was having the time of her life.  Her delight was practically orgasmic.  If all I had to do was pretend like we were part of Whittle’s Eleven and I had an in?  That was an easy choice.

“You’ll need to choose the right crew,” I said, raising Mark.  He said nothing and called.  “You don’t want anybody running away with the diamonds.”

“That’s true,” said Lacey.  “You need to have a good group of people that you trust.”

“Guess that’s where ‘thick as thieves’ comes from?” I asked.

Her foot grazed mine.  It was almost definitely an accident, but goddamn if it didn’t send a pleasant chill up my spine.  And other parts.

“Here’s what you’ll want to do,” I said, folding so I could get in on the conversation.  Mark gave me a look of disgust, but then reached around and pulled all the chips toward his pile.  “You need to make everybody call in every thirty minutes with a status update so you know what they’re doing.  Make sure they’re heading to a good rendezvous spot.”

“They’ll track your calls, though,” said Clara.

“So you get some burner phones.  Go to Wal-Mart and buy a bulk pack.  And you speak in code, right?  Like, ‘I’m heading over to the party’ means that you’re going to your hideout,” I said.

Lacey gasped and said, “Oh!  And if you say, ‘I’m stuck in traffic,’ then that means you think you ran into trouble!”

“Yeah, exactly.”

We exchanged high-fives.  “We got this!” she said.

“So… are you guys in or out?” Mark asked, ready to deal the next round.

“I’m in,” said Lacey, her attention grabbed again.

I tried not to let my stare linger on her.  “Me, too,” I said.


It just kind of snowballed from there.  Every other weekend, somebody had some new part of the plan.  “Whoever steals the diamonds needs to wear a disguise,” said Clara.  “Something convincing.”

“Something simple,” said John.  “I bet simple is convincing.”

“Yeah.  Like a wig and some lipstick.  And then after you switch out the dummy bag, you take off your disguise and throw it out.  That way, the cops might not even chase after you because they don’t know who to look for.”

“Oh!  And you have to drive a cheap getaway car!” said Lacey.  “Something you can dump somewhere!”

“What, like something off of Craigslist?” I asked.

Lacey was dumbstruck.  She stared at me with open-mouthed awe, trembling with joy.  I think I heard her squeak.  “Yes!” she finally said.  “Yes!  That’s perfect!  You buy some cheap-ass car from Craigslist and then you can report it stolen!  Oh, my God, James, you’re a genius!”

I don’t think Drew was as impressed.  “They can connect it pretty easily,” he said.  “You know how well that would hold up in court?  ‘No, your Honor, it’s not the biggest coincidence in the world that somebody stole my car the day before somebody who looked just like me robbed that bank.’  That’ll never fly.”

“Why are you hung up on robbing the damn bank?” asked John.

“Well, whatever, then!  It’s a terrible plan.  You need to have plausible deniability.”

“What if the person stealing the diamonds actually did steal the car?” I asked.

I had her full attention.  I should have just asked her out on a date that night.

“Yeah?” Lacey asked.

“Let’s say Clara is the one that actually steals the diamond.  Let’s say Lacey is the getaway driver.  But let’s say that it’s John’s car.  He buys it used, but then before he has a chance to file all the paperwork for the title, it just disappears.  He’s just sitting at home the entire time.”

“I’ve got a watertight alibi,” John nodded.  “And by the time the cops find Lacey and Clara, they’ve ditched their disguises and the car and the diamonds, so there’s nothing incriminating on them.”

“And then the runners bring the diamonds back to the hideout and we split up the loot!” Lacey shouted.  “Guys!  We’ve got this!”


We planned and joked and courted sinful ideas for another three months.  We had to be careful, though.  Not because we were worried about getting arrested or anything like that – it’s just that Sarah hated the game.

She was always out of the room whenever we started in on it.  Sometimes she’d announce she was going to the kitchen to grab a soda, and then we’d start tossing out our latest schemes in rapid-fire.   “No, no, no, you don’t want to use a gun, you want to keep it low profile,” John would insist, and then Drew would cut in with, “You can discredit witnesses, but you can’t discredit fingerprints,” and then Lacey would smack my arm with an enthusiastic bust of glee and say, “This is great!”  And then, when the flurry ended thirty seconds later, Sarah would be back in her seat with her soda and wonder why we were all out of breath.

If we had to talk about it while she was sitting with us, we talked in code.  “The Robber wouldn’t go there,” we’d say, pulling the pawn off the Cataan board.  “It would probably hang out closer to the mountains over here.”  And then Sarah would yell at us and say, “You can’t move the Robber, jackass!  Put it back!”

It was a fun joke that just the six of us understood: Drew, John, Mark, Clara, Lacey, and me.  A grand, collaborative thought experiment.  And it probably would have stayed that way if Mark hadn’t lost his contract with the county.