The man on Park Street was clearly up to no good. He looked over one shoulder and then the other. He checked both sides of the street. Then he ducked into a shaded area between buildings and headed for the bushes. In his hands he clutched something I couldn’t see. With a wily move, he bent toward the bushes and laid down his package where it couldn’t be seen.
Aha! The drop.

The man was back on Park Street in seconds, empty handed now. He looked behind him. He looked to his side. Nervously, he moved along, heading toward the hustle and bustle of Ash Street.

A plot was surely afoot.

No sooner had I begun to work on this riddle, a photographer shot out of nowhere. He came around that same Park Street building and darted into that same quiet patch of grass. Working his camera with great precision, he began to photograph the buildings around him. A rooftop here, a particular stone carving there. Ostensibly out just to shoot architecture.

I wasn’t buying it. Oh, nossir. This was the big one. The story of all time was at hand and it unfolded right in front of me. I was already preparing my Pulitzer acceptance speech.

When it was safe (you have to be careful – sometimes these guys use spotters who watch at a distance) I ambled across Park Street. I was nonchalant. I was cool and blending in. To uncover the crime of all time requires nerves like iron.

When I made it to the bushes where the drop had been made (“and I’d like to particularly thank the Pulitzer Committee for that rousing round of applause…”) I dropped deftly to the ground.

Aha! There it was! A brown paper bag! With a half-empty bottle of beer inside!

OK. So the Pulitzer speech could probably wait. The man who made the drop clearly meant only to stash his half-drunk 40-ounce brew so he could return for it after an errand. The mysterious photographer was probably an amateur getting in some practice on a nice spring day. I had probably spent too much time in the noon sun on Park Street.

I see conspiracies everywhere. I see mysteries in the mundane and plots in the prosaic. I don’t know if it’s a curse or a blessing.

I don’t look for the worst in human nature at all. Quite the opposite in fact. But I’m always aware of man’s potential for mischief. I’m always aware that somebody, somewhere, is up to no good. And sometimes the wildest stories are right underfoot. I’m always afraid to step right over them without even a glance.

I like the cloak-and-dagger stuff. Sometimes it leads me astray.

I was out at a fire scene a year or so ago. A barn and a few cars had burned in a strange moving fire. The blaze had burned in an almost complete circle, engulfing everything within. Not altogether strange on its face, no. But to the trained eye of the truly desperate reporter, little clues appear fast.

In this case, those clues came in the form of spent shell casings. We’re talking the scene of gunplay here, friends. There were .45s, .357s, 9mms and… Say, could that be a round from an Uzi?

Aha! A barn and a bunch of cars go up and there are signs of weaponry everywhere? Oh, yeah. We’re talking cache here. We’re talking a big militia uprising that only I have stumbled upon. We’re talking secret armies and underground assassins and we’re talking about that Pulitzer speech again.

Deftly (I like to be deft when the crime of the century is upon me) I began to collect the shell casings. I did so with my pen, so as not to sully the fingerprint evidence. Surely the guys from the CIA would want that evidence just before they offered me a job for my shrewd work.

Coolly, I carried my stash back to the office. I may have even whistled as I left, so as not to reveal the raging glow of discovery inside me.

Back at the office, all it took was one call to one veteran cop. Yeah, we saw the shell casings, LaFlamme. Who could miss the shell casings, LaFlamme? That’s a shooting range out there, LaFlamme. There tend to be shell casings at shooting ranges, LaFlamme.

I believe I hung up the phone very deftly when the conversation was over. Curses! Foiled again!

I keep those shell casings on a shelf near my desk. They remind me of what might of been and they look sorta cool. When people ask me where they came from, I make something up.

Mark LaFlamme is the Sun Journal crime reporter.

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