℞ for Ruin
A short story by:
“Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive”
Sir Walter Scott: Scottish author and novelist; (1771 – 1832)
It was one month since she retired from the Philadelphia Police Department, after twenty-five years in her role as one of the city’s centurions. Paige and her husband Bryant had just returned from their long postponed trip to Europe. She loved the old world charm, the interesting accents and the historic sites. With the meandering cobble stone streets and the delicious food, it was all she ever thought it would be and more, but now she was ready to start her second career. “Time to buckle down and find a job,” she said.
At forty-six, Paige was still a relatively young woman. A neighbor of hers, who worked for the DEA, suggested that she look into the drug companies. She did and within a week she was working for a national pharmacy chain. Her job was to provide security for the Philadelphia market which consisted of eighty-five retail outlets and one distribution center. Her duties included routine security audits, burglary and larceny investigations, bad check inquiries, and some days she did pre-employment background screening by administering polygraph examinations to applicants. This was one of those days.
As they were introduced, Paige made a mental note of the moisture she felt when she shook Ben’s hand. Although not always a sign of deception, it was on the list of indicators that she had learned about when she received her training in polygraph and interrogation. After directing Ben to the chair next to the polygraph instrument on her desk, Paige unscrewed the lid on a jar of psychological rattlesnakes. She did this by explaining to Ben how polygraph examinations work. She told Ben that the lie detector had one serious flaw. That bit of information always got the attention of the person being tested, because if they planned on being truthful, they did not want some machine defect to make them look deceptive, and if they planned on lying, then they wanted to know about any defects so they could blame their reactions on the machine.
“Flaw? What kind of flaw?” Ben asked, displaying a keen interest in any defects the machine might have. Paige explained that the polygraph recorded a person’s reactions when they were being untruthful, but that it could not tell the difference between a big lie and a small lie. “Well, that’s not good,” said Ben, happy to have found what he thought might be a justification for any reactions that Paige might detect. That is when the first rattlesnake slithered out of the jar.
“Right,” Paige said, “That’s why we conduct a pretest interview. I will review every question with you in advance. There won’t be any surprises; if you are uncomfortable with any question, you can explain why, and I will revise the question to account for your explanation. For example, if I ask you if you have ever stolen anything and you tell me, “Yes, a pack of condoms when I was a teenager,” then I will change the question to “Other than that pack of condoms, have you ever stolen anything? Do you see how this works?”
“Oh. Yes, I see,” said Ben, disappointed that his justification had been neutralized. Paige then proceeded to conduct the real pretest interview during which she reviewed the questions she would ask and elicited Ben’s answers, revising questions as necessary based on what he told her.
When she finished the interview and as she affixed the attachments to Ben’s body, Paige said, “Okay, let’s begin the examination. You will feel a slight squeeze on your arm when I inflate this blood pressure cuff. Unlike the blood pressure reading you get at the doctor’s office, I am going to leave the cuff inflated for a couple minutes. You will need to remain perfectly still during the test.” After placing two corrugated pneumatic tubes around Ben’s chest to record his respiration cycles, and two wire leads on his fingers to measure his galvanic skin responses, she inflated the cuff. Then she flipped a switch that caused a strip of graph paper to begin advancing from under the four recording pens on the instrument. Paige told Ben to remain still and to look straight forward:
“Is your first name, Ben?” Paige asked in a modulated tone.
“Yes,” said Ben.
“Is your last name, Rodin?”
As she began each question she placed a vertical hash mark on the moving chart directly below the moving pen tips; she placed a second hash mark when she finished the question. After the second hash mark, she placed a plus or minus sign to indicate either a yes or no answer. Paige continued this process throughout the examination, allowing approximately fifteen seconds between questions to allow Ben’s brain and central nervous system to process the questions and answers, and to react.
“Do you live at the Stately Manor Condominiums in center city?”
“Other than what you told me, in the first eighteen years of your life did you ever steal anything?”
“No,” Ben said, as he shifted slightly in his seat.
“Please remain still,” Paige reminded him. “Are you forty-two years of age?”
“Have you ever been involved in a serious, undetected crime?”
“No,” Ben replied. The next fifteen seconds seemed like an eternity. His pulse increased in intensity as the heat rose in his face when he flushed. Ben’s left arm was ready to burst. It was as if a boa constrictor had wrapped around it. His nervous system regressed ten thousand years as his fight or flight mechanism kicked in. The parasympathetic side of his nervous system signaled Ben’s heart to send more blood to his extremities, and when it did the blood pressure cuff felt even tighter. His body was gearing up to do battle or get out of there. He became aware of every skin cell and twitch muscle from the end of his nose to the hairs on his legs. He felt the breeze from the louvered overhead air duct. His senses were on fire. It was as though his entire body had suddenly betrayed him. The valium Ben had taken that morning to prepare for this test was not working. At the time, five milligrams seemed like it would be enough to suppress his anxiety. He judged poorly.
When they were introduced and Paige felt the moisture on his hand, she also noticed that his pupils appeared to be somewhat dilated. She filed that away also, suspecting that Ben may have taken something to try to calm his nerves. While not conclusive in isolation, this too was sometimes an indication of deception, especially when coupled with other observations. When she ran the polygraph unit for the police department, Paige encountered many of the numerous tactics which people employed to try to beat the test. In any conversation where the subject of lie detection or the polygraph comes up, there is always someone in the group who knows a foolproof way to beat the test. “I read …,” “My cousin said …,” or, ”Take a Valium or Xanax”, “Put blotters in your shoes”, “Squeeze your butt muscles”. The list of counter measures is long, and as ridiculous as mutilating ones hands to destroy ones fingerprints, which only manages to create a unique set of prints, or non-prints, making the range of samples to search even smaller.
Are we in the city of Philadelphia?” Paige continued.
“Huh?” Ben grunted. He had drifted. The riot his nervous system had visited upon him caused him to lose his concentration. Paige’s voice seemed like it was coming from some distant place, as in a stupor.
“Please just answer yes or no to the questions,” Paige reminded him in the same even tone. “Are we in the city of Philadelphia?”
“Yes.” Ben was back in the moment.
“Are you a registered Pharmacist?”
After another fifteen seconds of silence, Paige pushed the release valve to purge the air from the blood pressure cuff. Ben could feel himself relaxing. The boa constrictor hissed as the air slowly escaped the bladder of the cuff. The pointer on the gauge of the sphygmomanometer dropped back to zero. The pressure was off.
“How did I do?” Ben asked, trying his best to act nonchalant.
Paige did not answer. While maintaining a neutral face as she switched off the power to the polygraph, she allowed Ben to simmer in his angst. In a simultaneous gesture, Paige tore off the strip of graph paper on which Ben’s reactions were recorded. The squiggly red lines from the recording pens and the markings that Paige had applied with her felt tipped pen would just be so much graffiti to the untrained eye; however, to Paige it painted a picture of a person with something to hide.
Paige appeared to be moving in slow motion, as she came around to Ben’s side of the desk. She slid her right hip onto the corner. Paige was facing Ben at an oblique angle, and by sitting on the corner of the desk, she was slightly above Ben, and looking down. “We are not through yet,” she said. “We do this at least twice. That gives us a chance to address any things that popped into your mind which you may have forgotten during the pre-test interview.” Paige was giving Ben an out so he could explain his reaction without having to admit that he lied. She continued. “Ben, do you remember before the test, when I told you about the one big flaw with the polygraph?” Paige asked. Ben was looking up towards his left at Paige. “Yes,” he paused, “No,” another pause, “What are you referring to?” he asked as he knitted his brows, feigning ignorance.
“The big lies and little lies Ben, remember? I told you that the polygraph didn’t know if you were lying; only you know that. All that all the polygraph does is record the physiological responses that a person has when they are trying to deceive someone, actually, when they are trying to deceive themselves. It happens because of the fight or flight syndrome. Do you remember that, Ben?” Paige asked.
“Oh, Yeah, I remember,” Ben said, shifting his eyes away from Paige’s steady gaze.
“Sure, you’re a bright guy, and being a pharmacist, I would think you understand that completely. Well, that’s where we are now Ben, because when I asked you if you had ever been involved in a serious undetected crime, you said “No.” That answer caused you to have a reaction Ben,” she asserted.
“Really, the machine reacted to the questions?” Ben inquired, trying to sound surprised.
“No, Ben. You did.” Paige charged. “You reacted to the questions after you gave your answers. Again, the polygraph just records those reactions. Here’s the problem, Ben,” Paige continued, “I see the reaction, and I know you are being deceptive,…"
“But,” the pharmacist tried to speak.
“Hear me out, Ben,” Paige said, interrupting while softly putting her hand up the way a crossing guard would. “As I said, I know you are not being completely truthful, but as I explained, because of the limitations of this polygraph, I don’t know if you are telling me a big lie or a small lie. In other words, when you responded to being involved in a serious undetected crime, I don’t know if you were thinking about an occasion when you sold a couple of kilos of cocaine, which I’m sure you will agree is pretty serious, or if maybe you were just thinking about a time when you smoked a few joints in college. You see what I mean, Ben? Look, you’re a pharmacist; I mean technically they are both crimes. However, smoking a little pot to take the edge off is a lot more innocent than dealing coke. Wouldn’t you agree?” Another snake was out of the jar.
“Of course,” said Ben, trying to look composed as he crossed his legs in the typical figure four manner that men often adopt, with the ankle of one leg resting on the knee of the other. Paige recognized this pose as defensive posture. In the study of body language and psycholinguistics, she learned that the bottom portion of the leg is sometimes used as a blocker to cut straight across the body. It is similar to one folding one’s arms across the chest. In both cases the subject is figuratively holding up a shield or a weapon. Then Ben flicked some imaginary lint from his trousers which is another classic ‘Tell’.
“But, I haven’t smoked any pot, and I haven’t dealt any cocaine,” Ben said, feeling a little more confident, and thinking Paige was way off course. “Good!” Paige interrupted again. “That’s what I thought.” While she wanted some responses from Ben so she could evaluate his verbal and physical behavior, Paige did not want Ben to get too entrenched in his denials, making it more difficult for him to admit the truth later on in the conversation. “But, that’s the point, Ben. All I know from the test is that you haven’t been completely truthful, but I don’t know why. If you made a small mistake somewhere along the way, well,” she chuckled, “Welcome to the club.” Smiling in a disarming manner, she said, “I mean we’ve all stepped on a rake or two at one time or other in our lives, however, now we have come to a crossroad. Do we man up, admit our youthful indiscretions and get things resolved, or do we dodge and weave and try to deceive everyone, as a child might do?” In Paige’s extensive experience interrogating criminal suspects, she found that men lost their ability to remain in control when their manhood was questioned, especially by a woman. By suggesting to Ben that it was time to “Man up,” Paige had figuratively shoved Ben’s shoulder. “Ben, most people in authority are willing to overlook a small transgression, or a lapse in judgment, but they become a bit more intolerant when some hard core type deliberately tries to deceive them. Now, Ben, you don’t strike me as the hard core type. I can see how you might have dabbled with some pot, as I said, but not being a coke dealer. Am I right Ben? Did you experiment with a little reefer, or were you a dealer? I think you just experimented. Am I right, Ben?
Ben’s stared at Paige with the vacant gaze one might display if presented with a complicated mathmatical formula. He was snake-bit. After a long pause, Ben told Paige that he could not believe she was suggesting that he might be a drug dealer. After all, he was a registered pharmacist. They could take his license for what she was suggesting. It would be the end of his career. He also said that he resented the notion that everyone has used marijuana. He told Paige that he had never taken any drug of any kind illegally. Ben asserted that he had known since the seventh grade that he wanted to be a pharmacist, and that he would never risk his career like some burn out by smoking marijuana.
In reality, Ben had always wanted to be a bon vivant, but his grandmother put a codicil in her will insisting that Ben maintain gainful employment in order for his trust fund to remain in effect. His second choice was to be a doctor; however, he lacked the grades and the drive for medical school, so he settled for pharmacy school. Ben didn’t consider the valium he took to be illegal, even though he did not have a prescription for it. After all, he was a pharmacist and knew what he was doing. Besides, he wasn’t taking it for recreational reasons.
Ben’s way of rationalizing his self-medication was not uncommon in the medical community, hence the soft term, ‘self-medicating’. The ready access to all sorts of class two drugs and the defense mechanism of rationalizing has swelled the populations of many a rehabilitation center with intelligent but naïve doctors, nurses and pharmacists. Many of Paige’s police colleagues liked to joke that the difference between a junkie in prison and a medical practitioner in rehab was a college degree. Many drug counselors would agree. Fortunately, while there is no shortage of supply of those practitioners, they are only a miniscule slice of the entire medical community.
“Well, Ben, again you make my point. You are here applying for a job as a pharmacist. I don’t have to tell you what a problem drugs are in today’s society, and we certainly don’t want to give a drug dealer the keys to one of our pharmacies. So Ben, if it’s not drugs you are worried about, what are we talking about here? What have you blown out of proportion, in your mind?” Paige switched gears by using the same approach but with a different subject matter. She was both minimizing the crime and giving Ben alternative choices between petty transgressions and abhorrent behaviors.
“Listen Ben,” she said, “No one expects you to be perfect. I assure you, we don’t have all saints and angels working for us. As I said before, everyone has made mistakes in their lives. Usually Ben, it’s not the mistakes that get them in trouble. It’s lying about them,” Paige said. She flashed her man-slayer smile asking, “Can you say Nixon,” she paused, “Clinton? Come on Ben, lighten up. If you shoplifted a pack of condoms when you were a kid, don’t be embarrassed. I’ve heard a lot worse. However, if you got involved with armed robberies where people got hurt, that’s another story. I suspect it was some impulsive stunt where nobody got hurt. Am I right? Was it just an impulse, or did you hurt somebody Ben?”
Between the anxieties from anticipating this polygraph test all week, the pre-test interview and the test itself, with the pressure cuff, chest tubes, and wires attached to his fingers, the anticipation of the key question and the betrayal by his central nervous system when he lied, and now this gentle, beautiful woman encouraging him to open up, Ben was done. Paige’s soft, but firm and direct approach had whittled away at his resistance.
As he lowered his eyes and dropped his head, Ben said, “Nobody got hurt.”
“Bingo!” thought Paige. There was the admission. Now it was just a question of details. After dealing with the dregs of society when she worked in burglary and homicide for the police department, this was like ‘shooting fish in a barrel’, which was another one of her father’s gems. She never quite knew why someone would be shooting fish in a barrel but she got the gist of the phrase. “Tell me about it Ben,” Paige said softly, using her ‘soothing voice’, which induced men to tell her their life story.
“Well, my wife Natalie and I took a vacation to Tahiti with another couple from our building. They are friends of ours. While over there we visited a lot of the shops and bazaars. Like us, our friends had purchased traveler’s checks; however, my neighbor’s credit card was not one of the majors so most of the merchants would not honor his card. His wife was disappointed because they had enough in cash and traveler’s checks to cover the hotel, food and transportation, but they would not be able to do any serious shopping without being able to charge their purchases.” Ben paused to lick his lips.
“They are a well to do couple,” Ben continued, “And my friend’s wife Marge is a very serious shopper. I offered to let her purchase anything she wanted on one of my cards. I told her she could reimburse me when we got home. As I said, Marge is a serious shopper. During the eighteen days that the rest of us were eating, site seeing and relaxing, Marge was out buying up jewelry. By the time she was done, I thought she bought up every pearl in the South Sea. There were white pearls, black pearls, gold pearls, fresh water pearls, and Japanese pearls, and they were set in broaches, earrings, necklaces, bracelets, rings and watch bands. Marge was in heaven. Pearls are her birthstone.
Ben stopped again. His tongue was sticking to the roof of his mouth when he spoke. It made an audible clicking sound. “Can I get a drink?” he asked. His mouth was still dry from when his fight or flight mechanism kicked in during the lie detector test and that dryness was enhanced by the valium he had taken. Paige noticed this and had heard that clicking sound a thousand times while conducting interrogations as she built her reputation in the detective division. She knew exactly what it was. She was well aware that Ben’s efforts to act nonchalant belied what his central nervous system was saying.
“Sure Ben. Coffee, soda, water, what would you like?” Paige asked in a friendly manner, as if they were just a couple of pals chatting about vacations.
“Coke would be nice. Diet if they have it.”
“You got it,” she said.
Paige got up and went to the door. As she walked away Ben reflexively scanned her from head to foot. Even in her man-tailored Brooks Brothers suit he could see that she had a trim, well-toned and very feminine body. “Must work out a lot,” he muttered to himself, as Paige opened a door and called to a stock boy. “Arthur, do me a favor, please?” Paige purred, while waving a ten dollar bill and purposely using an exaggerated, flirty little girl voice. Would you get us a couple of drinks, please?”
“Sure Paige,” Arthur said. “What would you like?” Arthur welcomed the chance to do something that would put him in Paige’s good graces. He was seventeen, large for his age, and had the kind of good looks that launch Hollywood careers. Paige had visited Arthur’s fantasies on more than one occasion. Paige knew the effect she had on men, and being human, she enjoyed the stolen glances of desire she occasionally observed. She also enjoyed toying with the opposite sex from time to time. As Arthur came over to take the ten dollar bill, she handed it to him while gently giving his hand a squeeze and saying, “A diet coke, and a coffee with cream and one sugar. You can grab something for yourself too if you like. You’re such a sweetie.”
Arthur most definitely would like to have grabbed something for himself, but he just politely said, “Sure, thanks Paige,” as he turned and strolled toward the exit. Before she returned to her conversation with Ben, Paige hesitated for a half a beat to watch Arthur as he sauntered away. She was not immune from fantasies either, although her character and maturity would never allow her to act on them.
The test site was an office that had been constructed in the rear of one of the company’s larger stores. The company had several satellite sites throughout the Philadelphia region. This store also housed the regional offices, where the other key management personnel were based. Paige closed the door, and then crossed the room and pulled her chair around the desk in front of Ben. She sat down with her knees almost touching Ben’s.
“So, your friend likes jewelry. Me too,” Paige said smiling, “And you were nice enough to put it all on your credit card. What’s the harm in that?” Paige was as smooth as silk, as she brought Ben back to where they had left off. “None,” said Ben. “It’s what happened later.”
“Oh!” Paige said acting intrigued. “What did happen later?” she asked, giving Ben a nudge to keep talking.
“A burglary,” said Ben. “A daytime burglar had been cherry picking the upscale condos in and around our building at Rittenhouse Square. We learned about the burglaries when we got back from our South Seas vacation. A few days after we were back, I was going over our expenditures from the trip. That’s when I came across all of the receipts for Marge’s jewelry. Marge had given me her receipts so I could verify her purchases when my credit card statement arrived. Marge said she lost track of how much she had spent on the jewelry, and asked me if I knew. Regardless of how well off Marge and Graham are I cannot believe how blasé she is about that amount of money.”
Curious, Paige asked, “How much money are we talking about, Ben?”
“Fifty-four thousand dollars,” Ben said. Paige straightened up in her chair a bit, and exhaled a long, slow whistle. “The lady likes her jewelry,” said Paige, “But, where is this going,” she asked, encouraging him to go on?
“Well.” Ben continued, “I told Marge how much it was, and that when my statement arrived, I would give her a copy of it. She was okay with that. I didn’t mention the receipts, and Marge didn’t bring them up. I guess that’s because she and Graham are so accustomed to everything being on credit cards. I’m not sure if the idea was beginning to form in my mind subconsciously at that time, or not.” Ben was a thinker. He was always analyzing everything. It drove his wife crazy sometimes.
“Anyway,” Ben continued, “At the same time that I came across those receipts, a news anchor was reporting the highlights of the upcoming evening news. He mentioned the burglaries in the center city area and that two more residences had been hit. I perked up when he mentioned that our building had been the target and that this wasn’t the first time that Stately Manor had been burglarized. Then he said something that really caught my attention. He said that he didn’t know if any other units had been hit because, being summer, a lot of residents may still be away on vacation or travelling, and we won’t know until they are back. That’s when I got the idea,” Ben said.
He stopped and took a sip of his diet Coke that Arthur had delivered. The clicking of his tongue had stopped. He had become comfortable talking to Paige. It almost seemed as though he was bragging and trying to impress Paige. She kept looking straight at him using her ‘soft receptive face’, giving him her full and undivided attention. She had large brown eyes, full lips, and flawless white teeth except for a small gap between the front two. She had mocha skin and a half dozen or so light brown freckles on her nose and cheek bones. Her hair was a soft Afro style. Ben thought she resembled a young Alfre Woodard a little bit. Paige had heard that before from other people. Her warm manner and good looks had a way of disarming suspects. The females related to her as though she were one of the girls, just chatting; and men saw her as a mother figure in some cases and a seductress in others, depending more on their needs than anything that she did.
Most of the detectives in her old unit had great respect for Paige. Many even came to watch her work live through the two way mirrors if they were lucky enough to be around when she was interviewing. Other times they watched her on the video recordings that were in the training room for that very purpose. One Captain joked that Temple University should give her an honorary doctorate degree considering the number of students she had.
Then there were the Neanderthals. Some guys just didn’t think a woman belonged in the homicide unit. If pressed, they probably didn’t think woman belonged in police work at all, except as dispatchers and secretaries, or bait for the Johns down around Thirteenth and Market near the bus terminal. Never mind that Paige had the highest confession rate in the unit. One day while watching Paige interview, one of the younger detectives commented, “Boy, she’s good!”
Ralph Johnson, who was a very hard boiled, old school detective said, “You can keep that touchy-feely bullshit; I just dial ’em up”. The younger detectives looked at each other quizzically and one rookie asked, “What do you mean, dial them up, Ralph?” Ralph Johnson said, “If I want a confession from a suspect who isn’t being cooperative, I just grab a phone book and slap them upside their head. That does the trick for me. It gets them to cut to the chase and it doesn’t leave any marks.” In nervous disbelief the rookie detective looked at his partner and then burst out laughing so hard that he spit his soda all over the two way mirror. His partner had to bite onto the notebook he had been writing in to keep his own laughter from being heard in the interrogation room. Typical of policemen from coast to coast, this group loved nicknames. From that day on, Detective Johnson became known as, ‘Dial ‘em up’ Johnson. Fortunately, like the real Neanderthals, the ‘Dial ‘em up’ Johnsons of the department were a dying breed. While Paige got along with them on a personal level, she still hoped that one day soon, all of them would be extinct.
“What idea was that,” asked Paige, taking a sip of her coffee to mimic Ben’s body language. “Insurance,” he said. “I have a very comprehensive home owner’s policy. It’s good up to a million dollars.” “Impressive! Why so much”, Paige asked curiously? “In case of loss,” Ben said, while giving her a questioning look, although he liked the fact that she seemed to be impressed. After all, weren’t everyone’s personal possessions worth a million dollars?
“That sounds a bit high, it must be an expensive policy,” Paige probed.
“Well, I have several valuable paintings and a few period pieces of furniture. One of the paintings alone is worth over two-hundred and fifty thousand dollars,” Ben said in a haughty tone. He liked to take on the pose of an aristocrat, but in reality these items were his grandmother’s. She loaned them to him to furnish his condominium, but retained ownership. He was also the recipient of a generous trust fund from his grandmother. The Dowager Rodin was a true Philadelphia Blue Blood from the main line and could have afforded to let Ben live the life of the idle rich, but Mrs. Rodin would have none of it. She thought that kind of life ruined people’s character, which was why she had the codicil placed in her will that required all of her heirs to maintain gainful employment. Ben hated that codicil.
“Yes, it is an expensive policy”, Ben continued, “Too damned expensive!” These insurance companies are a bunch of rip off artists!” he whined. This was part of Ben’s rationale for defrauding the insurance company. To him, it wasn’t like stealing; they were ripping off everyone else he told himself. He was just taking advantage of the premiums he was paying. “Why get insurance if you are not going to use it” he asked rhetorically?
“I hear what you are saying”, Paige said as she nodded. “So what about the insurance?” she asked, pressing him to continue.
“Well, when I heard the news report, I thought, what if my condo was hit; would they take my paintings or period pieces? No. The news anchor said they were taking small items with a lot of value allowing them to exit the building discreetly. According to the report, they were limiting themselves to silverware, cash, guns, and jewelry. Jewelry, can you believe it!” he exclaimed.
“Believe what?” Paige asked with a display of wide eyed innocence, allowing Ben, who was glowing with his own cleverness, to enlighten her about what she had already figured out.
“I was sitting there with fifty-four thousand dollars in jewelry receipts,” Ben crowed. “I had just returned home two days ago. I have a ‘Fifteen days of purchase’ clause in my insurance policy, which says I’m automatically covered for items not listed on my home owner’s policy, as long as I notify the insurance company within fifteen days of purchase. Talk about your win-win situations, and now there is a record of the building being burglarized! The policy also requires that the policy owner not only have their credit card statement to make a claim, but they also preferred the actual receipts, with the name of the vendor on them. This was karma,” Ben continued, “For once the little guy was going to get to stick his finger in the eye of the big insurance companies. So, I took a pry bar and put some jimmy marks on my front door, and then I went into Natalie’s walk in closet and took her jewelry box and threw it on the floor to break it. When I picked it up, I saw that the box, being a good quality piece, didn’t break. I actually had to torque the lid a little to get one of the hinges to bend, after which I called the doorman and reported the burglary.” Feeling quite smug, Ben recounted his staging of the burglary with a hint of pride. He was pleased with himself, although he knew his grandmother would not approve.
“Amazing,” Paige said, priming the pump. “Then you called the insurance company, right?”
“Smart girl,” said Ben, holding up his index finger and waving it slightly from side to side, “But no, not right away. First I had to wait until the police came and made out a burglary report. I knew the insurance company would ask for one.”
“Wow! You don’t miss a trick,” said Paige, further inflating Ben’s ego and lubricating his tongue. “Did the police come,” she asked?
“Of course, how could they not,” Ben said, “It’s what they do. Trust me; they do not want to alienate the residents in my building. We have two city councilmen and the mayor’s niece living in the building.” “I see,” Paige said.
“Yes and the knuckle dragger they sent did a marvelous job if I may say so,” Ben added in a condescending manner. “He observed my pry marks, and found Natalie’s jewelry box with a broken hinge on the floor. He also observed that several drawers were tossed and left open, and then the clever little detective concluded that I had been a victim of the recent daytime burglaries.” Ben’s contempt for the police was palpable. He had no idea that this bronze goddess he was trying to impress was a retired Lieutenant from the Philadelphia Police Department. “It couldn’t have gone more smoothly,” Ben said, “Except for the fingerprint dust. That stuff is like ground carbon, and it’s so fine it got into the grain of the wood on my door and trim, and totally ruined the jewelry box.”
“It is ground carbon,” Paige offered. The dazzling smile was no longer there. Ben had begun to bore Paige.
“Ah, small potatoes,” Ben said. He was unaware of the shift in Paige’s demeanor. “The super will replace the door and trim, and I included the full retail price of the box in my insurance claim, even though I was able to purchase it for half price at a ‘store closing’ sale. That was the cherry on top as far as I was concerned.”
“So your claim was for fifty-four thousand dollars?” Paige asked in a matter of fact tone.
“Fifty-four thousand, three hundred and fifty,” said Ben, wagging his finger again. “Don’t forget the box.”
“Of course, the box,” Paige said coolly. Getting up from her chair, Paige announced, “Okay, well that explains your reaction on the test,” as she unwrapped the blood pressure cuff from Ben’s arm, and the two leads from the galvanometer that were on the index and ring finger of his left hand. Then she removed the corrugated pneumatic tubes that she had placed around his chest. “I thought you said you run the test two times?” Ben said in a curious tone. “No need,” said Paige, “I’m convinced that you are being truthful with me.” Relieved, Ben asked, “So, am I hired?” as he smiled at Paige.
Now it was Paige’s turn to tell a lie, of sorts. While Paige did not specifically make the job offers to the applicants, no regional manager was about to override her ‘Do not hire’ recommendation. They certainly had the authority to do so, but would not want to have to explain their decision to the Area Vice President, especially if one of those hires ripped off drugs or money later on. Ben would not be coming to work for this drug company any time soon.
“Oh gee, I don’t know. That’s not up to me,” Paige said casually. “That is a decision for the personnel recruiter and the regional pharmacy manager. We’re trying to fill two spots and we have a total of sixteen applicants. After the personnel interview and this security screening, then the regional pharmacy manager reviews the candidates who are still in the running. Sometimes he even conducts a final interview himself. It’s a very arduous process, but we can’t be too careful.” Paige delivered her lines convincingly.
“I see,” said Ben, putting his jacket on. “Do you think what we discussed will interfere with my getting the job?”
Paige was incredulous. “Well, I won’t lie to you. I think the regional manager may raise his eyebrow a little. I can tell him that you were certainly truthful with me; but listen, don’t stop your search. Like I said, we have sixteen applicants.”
“Thanks, I appreciate that.”
“Sure. Take care,” Paige said holding the door open.
“Okay,” Ben said. “Nice meeting you.”
Paige did not respond. She watched him leave, thinking, “A trust fund, several hundred thousand dollars in art work and furniture, a sixty plus thousand a year job, and this guy commits a fraud against his insurance company; then he says they are rip off artists. Amazing, and I thought I met creeps when I was in vice!” For the first time, Paige mildly regretted that she was no longer with the police department. “I would love to bust this guy’s ass,” she thought.
It tortured her that she could not pick up the phone and whisper in the ear of one of her old colleagues, but that would be a violation of ethics of the American Polygraph Association and the Pennsylvania Polygraph Association, of which she was the secretary treasurer. ‘Dial ‘em up’ Johnson would have made the call in a heartbeat; but that wasn’t Paige.
A month had passed since Paige and Ben had their brief tete a tete. While reading the morning edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer over some French toast, a small bowl of fruit, and freshly brewed cup of designer coffee, Paige saw the headline of an article in the metro section that said, “Center City Pharmacist Arrested for Fraud.” Her interest was piqued. As she read on, she learned that Ben had made his claim to the insurance company, and received a check for fifty-four thousand, three hundred and fifty dollars. However, his neighbors, Graham and Marge Sterling had notified their insurance agent that they needed an addendum to their policy. They had some new jewelry to declare. Their agent was a different person than Ben’s agent, but he worked for the same company.
As requested, Marge gave her agent pictures of the pearls and other jewelry. When she could not produce the receipts, which Ben told her he had run through the washing machine, the insurance company asked that she just provide pictures of the jewels and copies of the credit card statement for the file. Since it wasn’t a claim, the rules were more relaxed, and Marge and Graham were premier customers. The insurance agent was not about to insist on the receipts, especially since they would be able to have the jewelry appraised. Marge complied.
Jim Riser was an investigator for the insurance company. He had received a call from detective Ralph Johnson, asking him if he could look into a claim that was recently filed. Before retiring and going to work for the insurance company, Jim had been Ralph’s partner. He didn’t know about Ralph’s new moniker, ‘Dial ‘em up,’ but he had seen him in action. Ralph told Jim he had a nibble; he gave Ben’s name and address to Jim, explaining that during a burglary investigation it was obvious that this was a staged burglary. “This guy was giving off signs of being dirty. My gut tells me that something about him just doesn’t ring true ,” he said. Having spent twenty years on the Philadelphia Police Department, before going to work with the insurance company, Jim met a lot of police detectives, but his ex-partner had the best gut reactions he ever saw. He knew exactly what Ralph meant when he said, “The needle on this guy’s bullshit meter was way over in the red.” Jim said, “Hold on,” as he put the receiver down and went to the computer. He pulled up a printout of recent activity. He saw a dozen entries for Stately Manor. His attention was drawn to two of the entries. One was a claim and one was an addendum. He noticed that the credit card numbers were the same and they were both for fifty-four thousand dollars. Any other time he would have ignored it thinking it was just a duplicate entry, or some kind of clerical error; but these two entries weren’t exactly identical. One was for fifty-four thousand dollars and the other was for fifty-four thousand, three hundred and fifty dollars, and the condo unit numbers were different. Jim picked up the receiver again and said, “Houston, we have contact.”
Two days later, ‘Dial ‘em up’ said, “Thanks for coming in. I don’t know if you remember me. I’m detective Ralph Johnson,” as he gestured toward a chair for Ben to have a seat. “I was at your place a while back.” After speaking with his old partner, ‘Dial ‘em up’ had called Ben and asked him if he could come to the station for some follow up on the recent burglary at his condo. “What is this all about,” Ben inquired in an impatient and condescending tone as he took a seat. “Have you captured the man who stole my jewelry.” he asked in a challenging manner.
“Yes, I believe we have,” said ‘Dial ‘em up” Johnson, as he sat down across from Ben, with their knees almost touching.
“What?” Ben asked in a shocked voice. He could not believe what he was hearing. Ben composed himself, hoping the detective had not noticed his surprise at hearing they had caught the burglar. “Have you arrested him yet?” Ben asked.
“We’re in the process,” said ‘Dial ‘em up”.
“Who was it?” Ben asked, “Some druggie, I suppose.”
“Yeah, you would think so, huh? But no, Ben, I kind of like you for this one.” ‘Dial ‘em up’, charged. He used the direct approach as he had learned at an in service training class on Modern Interrogation Techniques that Lieutenant Turner had conducted before she retired. After it sunk in what the detective had said, Ben went into his act.
“I beg your pardon,” said Ben, taking off his glasses in a slow, overly deliberate gesture, raising his eyebrows and glaring at ‘Dial ‘em up”.
“Yeah, see, we checked with the insurance company and we found that your pearls and other items, and your neighbor’s jewelry are identical, and get this, you both used the same credit card. That was a clumsy mistake, Ben,” the detective said, making his second direct accusation.
Trying to maintain his air of umbrage, Ben said, “Did it ever occur to you that my neighbor and I both happen to appreciate the finer things in life, detective? Also, had you made the slightest effort to check, you would have found out that my neighbor didn’t have her credit card with her, so I allowed her to use mine”. Ben was feeling smug that he had come up with this clever scheme, and was able to think so fast.
Detective Johnson nodded and said, “Well, that is interesting, but it’s not going to work, Ben. See, I did check with your neighbor. I also checked your credit card statement. It only accounts for one set of the pearls and other items, and now you tell me you also paid for your neighbor’s jewelry. That would show up on your statement as duplicate purchases. That’s an ‘Oops’. Do you see what I’m saying, Ben?”
Ben was now annoyed, and somewhat surprised that this dummy was so thorough. “Yes, I see what you are saying, Ralph,” Ben said sarcastically using the detective’s first name, as ‘Dial ‘em Up’ had done with him. Trying to recover, Ben asked tersely, “But, have you ever heard of cash?”
“Hmmm, so what are you telling me, Ben, that you carried over fifty-thousand dollars in cash with you on a vacation trip? Well good, because that size withdrawal from your bank account should be easy enough to verify.” ‘Dial ‘em up” noticed that Ben’s eyes widened, and he rapidly blinked them a few times in a slightly fluttering manner. Also, Ben’s pauses were getting a little longer as he thought of responses. ‘Dial ‘em up’ was reminded of an interview that Mike Tyson once gave to a reporter. The reporter told Tyson that his opponent had watched tapes of Mike’s previous fights and figured out a strategy to use against him.” Tyson smiled, and said, “Everybody has a plan ‘til they get hit.”
“No”, Ben said in a drawn out parental tone, “I didn’t use cash, I used American Express Traveler’s Checks.”
“Oh! Just as well, they are numbered right? So American Express will have a record of that, right?” asked Detective Johnson.
Ben had just been hit.
“What?” Ben asked. He was feeling the walls moving in ever so closer with each question, and his tongue was starting to make that clicking noise again, as he tried to turn the table. “Listen, why are you badgering victims, instead of finding out who it was that broke into my condominium?” Ben asked, using a tone that was effective in intimidating young sales clerks and receptionists, but not so much with hard boiled detectives. “I’m beginning to become a little annoyed with this game detective.”
“Oh, okay; then let’s play another game,” said ‘Dial ‘em up’ as he got up from his chair.
“Ah hah,” thought Ben. “The old ‘Jedi Mind Trick’ worked again.” Ben was about to get up and leave when he saw that the cretin, as he liked to refer to him, coming back from across the room, and he was carrying a phone book. Ben rolled his eyes, and in a disgusted tone asked, “Now what?”
As Paige continued to read on, the article in the paper said the pharmacist was interviewed by a Detective Ralph Johnson, and Detective Johnson obtained a full and detailed confession. Paige shook her head with a wry smile, thinking,” I don’t like it, but, it couldn’t have happened to a better candidate.”
As the dowager Rodin was eating breakfast on the veranda at her Villanova estate, she saw the same article that Paige had read. She picked up the phone and called George Plavin, the family lawyer. “I’m sorry, but Mr. Plavin has not arrived yet,” said the lawyer’s secretary. “But, If this is this an emergency, I can have one of the other partners speak with you, Mrs. Rodin.” “No, dear,” Ben’s grandmother said, “It can hold for George. Just tell him I need to amend my will, and revoke a trust.”