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August 29, 2005

The Nigerian Internet Scam

Recently I was at a dinner party in my neighborhood, along with a producer, an actress, a director, a lawyer, and a couple of shrinks. Talk turned to favorite hiking trails, because the neighborhood is Topanga Canyon, and Topanga State Park (11,000 acres of wildland) is our back yard.

I said, “You know how, when you’re on the fire road and you’re about an hour from the trailhead, and you realize you haven’t seen another human being, you start thinking about how desolate it is and how, if you throw a body down the hillside into the brush it would never be spotted, let alone recovered?”

Silence. Blank stares.

Okay, this is why God created mystery conventions. You ask that question sitting around the bar at Bouchercon or Left Coast Crime, and everyone nods. I’m positive that Susan McBride plans murders on her treadmill.

But I digress. My brilliant neighbors whose minds don’t run to dead bodies notwithstanding, this past week I was vindicated.

On Thursday, I wanted to go for a run, but between the heat wave and the power going out, I didn’t hit the trail until 6:45 pm. And among the things in life I don’t keep track of is the time of sunset. Why bother? It keeps changing. So it wasn’t until I reached the Overlook and a glorious view of the ocean that I noticed it was . . . dark. I mean, I could still see the trail, sort of, but the canyons and mountains were black and the sky was suddenly full of stars. And I was 2.7 miles from home.

The good news is, I’ve been running this road for six years, so I know it really well. Which was fortunate, because there’s no way I could have found the exact tree that leads off the fire road down the canyon to my house by sight alone.

The bad news is, I’m a little afraid of the dark. I never was in the years I lived in New York City, even in the dicier neighborhoods, because there were all those people around. I was nearly always afraid, however, growing up on a farm in Nebraska, because there was nobody around, and I always felt like if someone was around, he’d be Charlie Starkweather (Nebraska spree killer in 1958) or, more accurately, the ghost of Charlie Starkweather (Charlie was executed in 1959) and so now here I am living in Topanga, where the Manson family hung out for awhile, along with other questionable types attracted by desolate terrain, old nudist colonies, and a tiny post office manned by a woman named Cinderella.

The other bad news was, at that hour there was no moonlight. The other good news, though, is that while we have mountain lions, those mountain lions you hear about in the news who kill joggers are always from San Diego County, several hours south of us. The other bad news, though, was that I had no cell phone (defeats the purpose of running) and no dogs (they’re illegal in the state park and it’s very stressful to play hide-and-seek with the rangers, who like to issue seventy-five dollar tickets. Per dog. Plus, it’s deer season, and last year Jinn and Fez caught a deer. Not pretty).

The weather was nice, though.

But the worst was, I was not the only person trying to make it home by starlight on Thursday night in Topanga.

Christian Julian Irwin, a man exactly my age, a record producer, disappeared last Sunday. At 4 a.m., Christian was running down a ravine near his house, not far from my house, using his cell phone to call his friend and former partner, Fortunato Procopio, to say that he was being chased by pursuers connected to the Nigerian Internet Scam. That’s the last anyone had heard of him. Now, Thursday, friends and relatives were out searching for him, along with the Sheriff’s Department and law enforcement dogs, who followed his scent to Topanga Creek, then lost it.

Christian is my age, described as likable, compassionate, closely bound to friends and family, in good physical shape, favoring organic food and tennis. He could be me, except for the tennis part (and I really don’t bother with organic.) Also, he’s been nominated for three Grammys and I once attended the Grammys. And, as anyone could tell you, I’m exactly the sort of person who’d get caught up in a Nigerian Internet Scam.

So, along with Charlie Starkweather, and Charlie Manson, I now had the Nigerian Internet Scam artists to worry about.

But I had something Christian Julian Irwin did not have. I had Julie Andrews on my i-pod. For daylight running, it might be Guns-N-Roses or Radiohead or White Stripes that gets you through mile #7 in extreme heat, but in darkness, go for the old musicals. It’s hard to be scared while listening to Julie Andrews just as it’s tough to be depressed while singing along to Oklahoma! In fact, the whole experience was useful because now I know how I’d pass the time if trapped for days in the trunk of a car or thrown into solitary confinement in a jail in a small South American country. I have 900 songs on my i-pod, but thousands of random lyrics stored in my head.

As for Christian, he was found Friday, after five days, naked in Topanga Creek, washing out his pants. Hungry. Still ranting about the Nigerian Internet Scam artists. He’s currently undergoing psychiatric evaluation, but then, who isn’t? It was not reported whether he was singing Rogers & Hammerstein when he was found.

In any case, Christian, glad you’re okay. And for what it’s worth, I buy your story hook, line and sinker.

Have a good week.



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Those damned Internet scams! Fortunately, I didn't fall for one of the illegitimate ones. The Swiss bank account where I sent my $5,000 is run by none other than the widow of Col.Dumai Babumba himself! And they contacted me exclusively because of my spotless reputation. Can't wait until I get my million dollars. They did mention if I knew you, though, and I told them you liked to run after dark in Topanga Canyon. Was that not a good idea?
Harley - this is extremely funny. I'm glad Christian is okay and that he can wash clothes. But, man, for the rest of us this vignette screams CALIFORNIA!

Harley, you're so right! I do plot murder on my treadmill, among other places. What, those friends of yours at the dinner party don't discuss body disposal as a matter of routine? And you still want to hang with them?

Sheesh -- I'll bet they don't discuss skinning road kill, either (oh, wait -- wrong profession, wrong convention . . .). So, was it Camelot, My Fair Lady, Sound of Music, or something else?

I love Julie Andrews . . .

Julie Andrews? Have you seen Unconditional Love with Kathy Bates? Julie Andrews appears in several scenes, but the one of her singing in the cockpit over the intercom while the airliner flies through a thunderstorm is priceless!

Great story.

I can usually tell it's time to take a break from reading mysteries when I find myself checking for dead bodies each time I enter a rest room. And I did that BEFORE I read Laura Lippman's latest book (which is great, if you haven't read it yet).

Julie Andrews is aces. I have all the musicals on DVD. A crime that she didn't get to play Eliza Doolittle in the movie - and Camelot - do not even get me started on THAT casting. Although, let's face it, Franco Nero made up for just about everything else.

My kids now know Julie Andrews primarily as the Queen in the "Princess" books and movies.

Kerry - you would fit right in around here - skinning and road kill are normal conversation starters - just not at the table..

First day of school here. What a drag.

Julie Andrews used to tell about how she was staying at a resort near Salzburg. She was trying to get in shape for some Broadway musical she was getting ready to do (it may have been Victor/Victoria), so she was running around the place every day for exercise. One day she was really hitting her groove, so she started singing as she jogged to warm up her pipes. As it happens, the song she picked was one of her favorites: "The Sound of Music".

So she jogs up over this beautiful flower covered hill, singing "The Hiiils are aliiiiiive..." and runs straight into a group of Japanese tourists. These folks apparently think that this is part of the Salzburg experience...you get to see Julie Andrews running through the flowers singing. They start applauding wildly and snapping pictures. "What could I do?" she said, "I took a bow."

It such a great story, I don't even care if it's true.

Blank stares? From that group! I always think things like that when I am alone....in a forrest...paranoid....lions...tigers....bears! Crap! they all are chasing me!!! Run for your life...then they all smell the dead guy from Susan's book and go eat him instead! WHEW that was close!

That was too funny Harley! Although I had heard that Christian disappeared last week. I had not heard they found him. That is great! But hey who wouldn't need help after being chased by those internet scammers!

That is so funny about Julie Andrews, I have heard that story too, and you are right who cares if it is true--it is really funny and I could see her doing that :)

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