A Market For Crime

This one is from 2011. I’m just home from Hungrary, and hopefully I’ll get time to write a new text tomorrow. Feel free to leave a comment!

Richard Gimmons had always been deeply fascinated by the dangerous but, as he imagined it, oh so glamorous underbelly of society that hid in plain sight.

He knew perfectly well that reality was not like in the movies, where handsome men in expensive hats drove around in shiny cars and extracted swift but furious vengeance upon their unjust gangster foes in merciless drive bys – and always managed to talk their way out of it afterwards; the police knew that these mobsters were fighting the good fight. But he imagined that the fiction could not have deviated too far from reality.

Rich Gimmons’ own reality, however, deviated a great deal from the fiction. Indeed, the life he led was such that anyone would consider it boring, and your old, half deaf female neighbour would describe it as dull. He went to work every day at eight a.m dressed in his best grey suit (or one of them, at least, since he owned many), did his job as best as he could selling ecological soap to unwilling house mothers, and then went home at five p.m sharp. Well at home he changed into something more comfortable – usually a turquoise robe and a pair of furry slippers – and got down to business watching somewhat exciting TV thrillers from the safe confines of his old, favourite sofa. At weekends he sometimes visited his mother at the home, always bringing her a bouquet of pink roses, watching talk shows together with her until it was time for him to return home. On some, extremely rare, occasions he allowed himself to be talked into joining his colleagues for one glass after work, but lately he had begun to suspect they only asked him to be nice.

This stagnated habit of his, paired with his just as stagnated personality and lack of both courage and imagination, resulted in two immediate reactions when he one sunny Saturday morning opened up his daily newspaper to find this strange add on the middle page:

Is your life boring? Do you sometimes watch the news wishing that was you getting fussed over as a victim or a hero on TV? Let us spice your workday up for you! You only need to grab your phone and dial 555-3369BUYACRIME. And you know what? The first one is on the house! Don’t hesitate, we want to hear from you today!”

The first of his two reactions was excitement – this add could have been written for him personally. The other reaction was fear. Spicing up his workday? Buy a crime? No way he would have anything to do with such obviously dangerous and… strange affairs. An hour later he dialed the number anyway, his hands shaking slightly as he used them both to hold the phone steady against his ear.

After a couple of signals a pleasant, computerised female voice asked him please to wait in line, after which he was entertained with a somewhat catchy tune for a couple of minutes. Just as his fear of the unsafe was beginning to get the upper hand of his patience and curiosity, the music ended abruptly and he heard the sound of a receiver getting picked up.

Welcome to Life Spice Enterprise! How can we assist you?”

The voice on the other end was charming but, thought Rich, held the timbre of a voice capable of selling the apples back to the tree as well as scaring it into retracting them. He hesitated.

Hi…”, he said after a moment slightly too long had passed. “My name is Richard Gimmons, and I would like to… er… I’d like to buy a crime, please.” He blurted the words out, before he had a chance to change his mind.

The man at the other end let out a polite laugh. “Certainly, sir. What kind of crime would you like to order? We have a respectable selection of both services and entrepreneurs.”

Now Rich’s lack of imagination took its toll, and he started to sweat. How stupid he was! Of course he should have thought about what exactly he wanted to order before he made the call! “I… I don’t know really… Do you have anything to recommend?”

Well”, said the salesman, and Rich faintly heard him tapping the keys of a keyboard. In the background could be heard the sounds of other conversations, and Rich was reminded of the soundscape at his own office. “In fact I have. We are actually running a special campaign, today-only. You can get a Mugging and Severe Beating for the price of a Simple Pickpocket, if you sign up today. Or is this your first time here?”

Rich nodded and then realised that the salesman couldn’t see him, so he hurried to answer “Yes”.

Then I have to apologise, sir! Your first order is always for free with us! But I can give you a hint”, he said conspiratorially. “You can choose another kind of crime as your free try, and then also buy the Mugging and Severe Beating for today’s beneficial, heavily reduced price. That way, you can both have the cookie and eat it, so to speak. What do you say?”

Rich knew from his own experience with the salesman-job that he was being talked into something, and that the man at the other end probably got a percentage of every crime he sold. But at the same time he felt that he had taken a big step even calling this number in the first place, and suspected that he would never be able to work up the courage to do it again did he not strike the deal right away. And he had to admit: it sure sounded like a smart and advantageous deal.

Sure, I’ll take it”, he said in a voice that sounded ten times more sure of itself than he felt. “I’ll take that Mugging-thing, and…” He searched his brain for ideas for a crime, mentally going through movies he had seen and books he had read. Finally, he came up with the perfect idea. “And also please add a crime where I am dramatically forced off the road when I’m driving in my car”.

Excellent!” The salesman sounded genuinely rejoiced. “This is a very good choice, especially as it is your free crime; incidents involving vehicles are usually the most expensive ones. Then I’ll just need your name, address and Social Security Number.” Rich gave it to him. “And… Ah, I forgot to ask. Do you intend to benefit from the crimes yourself, or should I write them as a gift certificate for someone you know?”

No, I would like the crimes for myself, please”, Rich hurried to ensure him. “Both of them.”

Excellent, excellent.” The frenetic tapping of keys could once again be heard. “And now remains only the tailoring of your order. Do you have any specific wishes concerning time, place, perpetrator or any other circumstances for us to take into account, Mr. Gimmons?”

No”, Rich answered calmly, his fear of the unsafe momentarily suspended. “Surprise me.”

It was two days later that Rich was jumped on his way home from work. He had just gotten out of the subway station (he sometimes refrained from driving if the weather was rough) when someone knocked him down from behind, snatched his briefcase and started beating him senseless even as his accomplice violently rumaged through Rich’s pockets and removed his wallet and cellphone.

Rich screamed his lungs out, but it was dark and no one was nearby. The robbers left him bleeding on the pavement and took off with his belongings. He must have passed out, because when he came to several people were standing over him with concerned looks, even as a couple of medics were forcing their way through the crowd while yelling for the bystanders to leave room.

He was lifted onto a stretcher and placed in the back of an ambulance. He thought to himself as he saw the last strip of dawn light disappearing between the closing doors that this was probably the first time in his life he was inside an ambulance. This thought felt strangely soothing to him; things were changing.

Two ribs had been broken. And his nose. And three fingers on his left hand. He had suffered a heavy concussion, and a sharp, black field around his right eye made it impossible for him to conceal his sorry state. Apart from all this, he ached all over and had suffered several, less serious injuries that the doctors had said would heal without their intervention. Even so, he had been in hospital for a week and had had to call in sick from work for several days even after he had gotten home. His colleagues sent him flowers, and his insurance company was forced to cough up a respectable sum for his injuries and inconvenience. The TV news even made a small coverage about his ill luck, and the newspapers warned people about walking around alone at night in the area where he had been attacked.

Rich Gimmons began to feel that this being-a-victim business wasn’t so bad after all. His injuries healed pretty quickly, and he could return to work to bask in his new glory. People he had never spoken to before stopped him in the corridor to ask him how he was, and his boss went easier on him than usual – even offered him the first weekend off to rest.

He got in his car after the first work day, smiling as he saw his black eye in the rear view mirror. Maybe life wasn’t so dull and boring after all. He took the highway for a bit, before turning onto one of the smaller mainlines leading to his suburb. The sun was setting and some children were out biking. With helmets, he noted to his satisfaction. He passed them, and steered to the side to let by a pickup truck that was coming up fast from behind. Only it didn’t pass. He only had a moment to get a quick glance of the other driver’s cold stare before he realised what it was all about. He waved and shouted to the other driver to stop, please not now, that he had changed his mind. The driver just shook his head and gave Rich a businesslike smile.

Richard Gimmons’ Sedan was forced sideways off the road, through the crash barrier and down a steep slope. Rich screamed all the way down. He didn’t see the pickup drive away. Neither did he notice when the police and ambulance arrived. Everything went dark when he hit his head on the wheel as his expensive, ultra safe car collided with a beech and turned into a burning wreck.

Do you have any enemies, Mr. Gimmons?” The policeman wore a stern face and tapped his notepad with his ballpoint pen for every syllable he spoke. “Anyone who would wish to harm you?”

Rich shook his head with effort; the supportive collar they forced him to wear, together with the pain in his neck, made it hard for him to move his head at all. “No, sir, not that I know of”.

Of course he could not tell them about his doings with Life Spice Enterprise, that would only be stupid. He wasn’t even completely sure that ordering crimes to be committed against oneself was fully legal in his state. He continued struggling to spoon yoghurt from the bowl on his lap and into his mouth – a real feat when half your face is covered in bandages.

Are you completely sure?”, the policeman insisted, still tapping his notepad. “Because we can’t help but to find it kind of strange that the same man should be attacked and abused two times in one month, and that these incidents should be completely unrelated.” He gave Rich a concerned but stern look.

I’m completely sure”, Rich said between mouthfuls. “I’m a completely ordinary guy. I sell soap, watch TV and visit my mother. I don’t even have many friends – how can I have enemies?” The yoghurt tasted of raspberries.

The policeman seemed to agree; Richard Gimmons didn’t seem like the kind of person who would make enemies, or anything else either for that matter. He thanked Rich for his time, and left the hospital room.

Rich got home from the hospital two weeks later, to find a whole bunch of flowers and presents waiting for him in his apartment. His kindly landlady had obviously been sweet enough to let the deliverymen in with their gods, and he knocked on her door and thanked her for that. Then he spent the whole evening eating chocolate and watching The Godfather I on DVD.

When he got back to work some days later he was greeted with even more attention than the last time, and he felt that he really liked how things had turned out. A reporter from one of the major news channels visited him at work and asked him questions, and later that night he was delighted to see his own face on TV.

Life went on, and for a while his fame held. But as the days turned into weeks, and weeks into months, he noticed that people didn’t acknowledge him as much as they had done in the beginning. He was fear struck when he realised that he was slipping back into his old, boring lifestyle. The first thing he did when he got home from work that night was to call the number from the add that he had saved.

The police was beginning to despair. Richard Gimmons had no enemies, was not involved in any shady activities, had no criminal friends. And still he was repeatedly attacked at seemingly random intervals and under unrelated circumstances. He was on TV several times, and became something of a local hero – even though he had done nothing to deserve it except getting mugged, beaten, robbed, abused and almost murdered more times than a normal person had time to read about in a week. And the police had no means whatsoever to solve the case. In the end they just leaned back and enjoyed the show, hoping that A: it would eventually end, B: the case would solve itself, or C: Richard Gimmons would finally succumb to all the violence directed at him and drop down dead, one less hopeless endeavour to waste resources on. None of this happened.

Rich Gimmons himself was living what he considered the high life, getting recognised in the streets and even receiving mail from a handful of (probably crazed, but what the heck) admirers. People at work had long since begun to regard him as something of a wild card, not knowing if he really was involved in anything or not. Best to be on the safe side, they decided, and Rich found himself nervously shunned by some and treated with almost mob like respect by others. All to his liking.

Therefore he became desperate when he realised one day that his meager pay check, heavily reduced by all his recent sign offs and hospital bills, did not nearly cover his crime expenses. He had been borrowing from his savings account for weeks, and it was beginning to dwindle. And still he needed more crime.

He had thought of the perfect one last night, one where he was threatened by mysterious phone calls for days and then, the evening after receiving a rabbit’s head in a box at his office (for all his colleagues to witness, of course), forcibly tattooed on the back of his neck and thrown off a bridge with a Bible stapled to one of his legs. This would certainly rouse the media’s interest and spice up his life just that extra bit. But he had gotten a rather great overview of the company’s tariff over the weeks, and knew that this kind of crime would cost a small fortune. Maybe if he wasn’t in hospital so much and missed so many days at work, he would be able to afford it. But as things were now, he wasn’t. He hadn’t even been able to pay up for the last installment, and was beginning to worry what would happen if he didn’t pay it soon. He wasn’t afraid they would send thugs to beat him up – that would be getting one for free – but he feared that he would be black-listed as a customer and prevented from placing any new orders in the future. So he called them.

He had learned through experience that there were four regulars working the phones at Life Spice Enterprise, and this time he got number three: a man with a fat voice who couldn’t be anything but corpulent (and probably extremely dangerous, regardless of the pleasant note in his voice as he took the call).

Welcome to Life Spice Enterprise! How can we help you, sir?”

Hello, my name is Rich Gimmons.” He had gotten quite sure of himself over the weeks in regular contact with the company. “I have thought of the perfect crime for me.”

The salesman was quiet for a moment, and then replied: “Ah, Mr. Gimmons! I see here that you haven’t carried out the payment for your last purchase yet. I’m sorry to say, but you cannot place a new order until the previous one has been paid for.” He tapped some keys. “Have you lost your invoice? Shall I send you a new one?”

Rich felt despair bubbling inside of him, threatening to take over; he needed this crime! He held it back with some effort. “No, I haven’t lost it. I just… Could I not please get a discount? I am a returning customer, after all…”

We don’t give discounts on that kind of basis, Mr. Gimmons. We do however have some special offers. Would you like to hear them? You will still need to pay for the previous order, though, of course. Let’s see here…” Rich could hear the salesman going into vendor mode.

And what if I can’t?”, Rich interrupted. “What if I can’t pay?”

The salesman stopped writing on his computer and was quiet for slightly too long. “Well”, he let ring a short, rhetoric laugh, “We couldn’t very well contact the public debt collection, could we. No, we would simply have to kill you.” He resumed tapping his keyboard. “Now, would you like to hear about our special offers?”

Rich grew cold inside. Kill him? That was definitely more than he had bargained for. With stiff hands he hung on to the phone like his life depended on it, but couldn’t think of a word to say. He began to shake all over.

Mr. Gimmons?” The voice at the other end sounded distant and polite. “Mr. Gimmons, are you still there?”

Rich took a deep breath. “Yeah, I’m here”, he said. “Listen. Is there… is there really no way I could get a discount? Or maybe be allowed a part payment?”

No, I’m sorry, Mr. Gimmons”, the salesman replied. “But is there really no way you can pay up?”

Rich didn’t know what to say. Would they kill him right away if he said no? He cast nervous glances towards the door to his apartment. But still, he actually couldn’t pay…

No”, he replied after almost half a minute of agonising indecision. “No, I really can’t pay. I have no money left”. He waited in horror for the verdict.

Hmm… I see”, said the man on the other end of the line, suddenly taking on a completely new kind of business voice. “If you are completely sure…” He tapped his keyboard with a new kind of zeal.

Rich waited and waited, growing more anxious by the minute. “What?!”, he burst out suddenly, too nervous to keep his mouth shut any longer. “What do you mean?”

Ah, here it is”, the salesman finally said, triumphantly. “I have a solution for you. Would you like to hear it?”

Yes! Yes, of course!”

Very well, then. I can sign you up for a possibility to work off your debt to our company, and at the same time open up an account where you can save the credits you earn, for later use on our services. How does that sound?”

Rich didn’t believe he had heard the man right – this was too good to be true. “Yeah, that sounds really great! Sign me up!” Then he came to think of something. “How exactly do you mean, work it off?”

The other man adopted his happy-salesman-voice again. “Well, it’s quite simple, really. You know the services that we provide? They are carried out by independent entrepreneurs hired by us. You could become one yourself, and accept contracts from us. The more advanced the contract, the more credits are deposited into your account.”

So you mean… I can earn money this way?”

The salesman laughed. “No, we do not deal in currency. We deal in services. Don’t you know that it’s a crime to pay prowlers and criminals to commit infringements? It’s called criminal instigation. Instead, all our entrepreneurs have the possibility to cash out their earnings in free services. These services can be enjoyed by the contractors themselves or, more commonly, by other individuals decided by the entrepreneur doing the withdrawal. Most of our employees carry out other business alongside the engagements provided by us, in order to earn their living. Their dealings with us are strictly for the sake of being able to extract services and return favours.”

I see. Well, it sure sounds great. But I’m a bit unsure as to what kind of services I would be able to provide? I have never done anything like this in my entire life.”

I see here that you have purchased no less than thirty seven crimes during the past two months. Is there nothing from those experiences that you can draw inspiration from? What do you want to specialise in? Hit-and-runs? Poisoned beverages? Sharp shooting? Armed robbery?”

Rich thought for a moment. “Hmm… Maybe hit-and-runs? That doesn’t seem all to complicated to start with.”

Excellent, Mr. Gimmons! Shall I sign you up as a private contractor, then? You will have to start at the bottom of our list, working your way up doing more and more complicated assignments – and at the same rate you will of course be rewarded with larger and larger salaries.”

Yes, please”, said Richard Gimmons with a grin. “Will I have to use my own car?”

No, of course not. We will provide you with vehicles suitable for each particular contract you are assigned to. We will contact you on this number as soon as someone places an applicable order.”

Okay, that sound great. Sign me up.”

Splendid! Now you are registered on our list of private entrepreneurs! Your first assignment will of course be a no-payment one, since you still have your unpaid debt to us. But after that, the credits will start rolling in! Isn’t that great? Any more questions?”

No, all is crystal clear.”

Great! Then I want to wish you good luck, and am looking forward to hearing about your progress in our company, Mr. Gimmons! Have a nice day!”

Thanks”, Rich said and put down the receiver.

Over the next six months Richard Gimmons made himself busy executing his assignments as best as he could, picking up cars, stalking his taskmasters, analysing their habits and everyday patterns, striking when they expected it the least and making sure not to kill anyone. He was close once, but luckily it ended well. He only got half his salary for that one, though. In time he perfected his methods and rose in reputation within the company.

He found it hard, however, to keep up with his regular job. He managed, but he suspected that the major reason his boss didn’t let him go after repeatedly coming in late (or not at all, when his moonlight assignments got in the way) and doing a generally crappy job at the sales department, was the fact that he was afraid of Rich. It was obvious that he had shady business going, even though nobody could prove it.

He had to move to a smaller apartment, though, to be able to afford the rent with his reduced income. And he didn’t have as much spare time as before to enjoy the saved credits in his company account, and the free crimes they could afford. But he found that he liked his additional job, and was beginning to wonder if this wasn’t something he could do full-time – weren’t it for the fact that his current employers refused to pay him in cash instead of in credits. He was just beginning to consider starting up his own contractor side-business, when the police came to his office one afternoon and arrested him, to his colleagues’ wide eyed excitement.

They asked him in endless interrogations who he worked for, and if he had anything to say about the accusations that he was a hired killer for a major crime syndicate.

No, you’ve got it all wrong”, he assured them calmly. “I’m only a private contractor under a commercial business corporation that trade in commissioned crimes”.

For some reason they mistook this for a confession, and rewarded him with a five years sentence.

During his time inside the bars of the well renowned state prison, Rich Gimmons made many friends. Dangerous friends and powerful friends. These friends would rather suffer torture in Hell than let Rich be thrown out on the street when he had served his time, and to his delight they gave him all the contacts and resources he needed to start up his own business when he got out. The only thing he would have to do in return was to provide free services to their allies every now and then. Great!

So Rich didn’t even bother trying to get his old job back, and he didn’t go back to Life Spice Enterprise, either. He didn’t need to buy crime anymore; he was crime. And he was surprised to notice that he made ten times the money in this new line of work than he had ever done at the office – and the dramatic incidents that he had previously been forced to pay expensive fees to be able to enjoy now came for free as part of his average workday.

Sure, his old pals from prison contacted him every now and then, wanting him to sell stuff for them or to beat someone up. So high was he in demand by them and his regular customers, that he eventually had to hire extra hands to help him keep up. Soon he was in charge of his own little syndicate, and he felt very proud of himself.

Then came the day when he was required to kill a person for the first time. It was an old player who didn’t have the good grace to pay up for his debts to one of Rich’s new friends. Rich, on the other hand, had the good grace to know when to repay past kindness.

He stalked his prey for a couple of days, until he felt sure about his habits and doings. Then he struck, quickly and mercilessly. He felt as if all the past years since he first saw that strange add in the paper had prepared him, groomed him for this very moment. He felt no remorse, only a sense of being born for this. For days afterwards he followed the police investigation through the news, and was satisfied and more than a little bit proud to conclude that they were getting nowhere. Richard Gimmons truly had perfected crime, perfected murder, perfected himself. And his life was very much spicy, nowadays.

Soon he had made a name for himself amongst the lowermost layers of society. If you’re looking for one of the big ones, Richard Gimmons is your man. Yesterday he even dared discovery just for the hell of it, posting a not-so-discrete add in one of the major papers:

Is your husband boring? Do you ever watch TV wishing that was your troublesome neighbour getting pushed down a roof in that movie? Let us spice your boss’ coffee up for him! You just have to grab your phone and dial 666-137KILLYOURDARLINGS. And you know what? The first one is on the house! Don’t hesitate, we want to hear from you today!”

Did anybody call? Well, that’s another story for another time. The point it that Richard Gimmons had managed to perfect crime. And is there a market for it? Yes, indeed, there is, I can assure you. There is.

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Chris is a non-binary writer and journalist from Sweden, struggling with the novel that will make them an author.

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