A Pattern

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Mitch set up a meeting, then hung up the phone. "Huh... settling his wife's account at Morey's Bookstore...." He sat back at his desk and stared at the ceiling. David Jackson walked into the office. "David?"

"Yeah?" David looked like he had news, but Mitch had a bee in his bonnet.

"Got credit card records for the victims in that database yet?" Mitch asked, an odd excitement in his voice.

"About thirty of 'em," said David. "A lot of 'em didn't use credit cards, and we only got warrants for three of the banks."

"Check for bookstores," Mitch said, getting up and walking toward David's desk.

"Bookstores?" David sat back down and typed an SQL query.

"Yeah...." Mitch leaned over his shoulder as a long list popped up on the screen.

"This is just the ones that have the word 'Book' somewhere in their names," David said, "but do you see anything here? They're just bookstores, Mitch. All over the the city."

"Now, the same thing for the big bookstores. Borders, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon dot com." Mitch's eyes were suddenly bright.

David's keyboard clattered again. "Uh... There's almost nothing. Three purchases total, less than eighty bucks." David frowned. "That can't be right."

"Got you, you bastard," said Mitch.

"What the hell, Mitch?" David was looking up.

"The big bookstores all sell new books, or just mail order. I'm betting that our victims buy books mostly at local bookstores, used."

"Why?"

"Just a minute...." Mitch's eyes were lit up. "Check for thrift stores." David's fingers danced on the keyboard again, and a string of symbols appeared at the SQL prompt. When he hit 'return,' a list of thrift store purchases replaced it. Most of it scrolled off the top of the screen. "David, this is what, thirty people for three months each, so ninety months of purchases?"

"Yeah, about that," said David.

"So how often do you buy something at a thrift store?"

"Haven't this year."

"Yeah, me either. Four hundred and eighty two rows, is that how many thrift store purchases they made?"

"Well, if they never used cash or used plastic from an account at a different bank it would be." David spread his hands. "You gotta figure they made more purchases than that. It won't be in this table unless it came through the banks where we got warrants."

Mitch leaned in. "So we got thirty people here who averaged over five thrift store purchases a month, and we don't know how many over five. And they also bought a lot of books at little local bookstores but virtually none from the big booksellers."

"What the hell, Mitch?"

"Remember that thing Clelland said about some things being more real than other things?"

"Oh." David stared at the screen, his eyes getting wider. "Holy shit, Mitch. Absolutely not. There can't be that many."

"I'm thinking so," Mitch said. "Entertain my newage crap for the moment, but you remember ... DeCourtney was actually strong enough to freak Thomas out by - what she said - remembering the whole thing at him. Thomas is a very solid kind of guy, right? "

"Yeah," said David. "But he still gets the shakes every time he sees us or has to talk about this case. Whatever she did, it really got to him."

"But Clelland made the call that same afternoon, and he said there was no way he could convince us of it if he came in, right?"

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