Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A True Mystery

It started out like a normal Saturday: grocery shopping, run a couple of errands, then home for lunch. Last Saturday’s first errand was a trip to the Post Office to pick up Express Mail that had been waiting since Wednesday.

It was a cardboard mailer, standard letter size. A book, I thought, though why someone would spend $25.15 to Express Mail a book for review was beyond me.I opened the envelope walking to the car. No book. Two pieces of cardboard stiffened the envelope to protect the small package inside, wrapped in the front page of Tuesday’s San Diego paper. Inside the paper was a microcassette recorder. Taped to the recorder was a note written in a feminine hand:

Play me.

I had my finger on the button when my inner mystery fan kicked in. Isn’t this the scene where the unsuspecting galoot blows up and they roll the opening credits? I put the recorder back in the envelope and called the Beloved Spousal Equivalent and Research Assistant. She said not to push the button. She’d look into it. I gave her the name and return address and went about my business. If mailing it didn’t blow it up, driving it to the supermarket shouldn’t cause any problems.

The return address was a beachfront condo in San Diego, currently for sale. (Good luck with that.) The recorder looked normal, if a little scuffed. Still, I didn’t recognize the name or address, my address was in an unusual format, and spending $25 to ensure that only I could pick it up didn’t sit right. Probably too cautious, but some mistakes you only get to make once.

The FBI referred us to the Postal Inspectors. The first guy I talked to asked all the expected questions: describe the envelope, who do you work for, any reason to think someone would want to do you harm? When none of those answers alarmed him, he said I should play the tape to hear what it said.

“Excuse me,” I said. “I don’t mean to be paranoid, but I could have done that without involving the federal government. If this thing blows up, I’m going to be pissed.”


He hooked me up with a Dangerous Materials Investigator, who asked me all the same questions, plus a few more. Listened to what I had to say, decided it was worth coming over with his cool tools. Used a sniffer to check for biological, chemical, or radiation hazards. Negative. The BSERA was bummed. She thought a positive test would earn us a free housecleaning.

The agent took three X-rays, let us look at them over his shoulder.

“You know what this looks like. Mr. King?”

‘Yeah. A tape recorder.”

I played the tape while he packed up. A woman and a man went through what sounded like the first two pages of a story or screenplay. The woman was a writer; the man could have been a shrink or a cop. She told him about Julia, a character in the woman’s first story. About how she saw Julia—not a woman who looked like Julia, but Julia—talking to a hotel desk clerk, using the exact words as in the story. Told him how it couldn’t be a coincidence, because Julia then did exactly what she did in the story: took out a gun and blew her head off. This was the woman’s curse. For over twenty years, her characters had been coming to life. Not just to her, or on the page. For real.

That’s all that was on the tape, and all I know. True story. Swear to God.


Addlepated said...

You might have found this by now, but we're discussing this very thing over at Unfiction -

(I saw you found my blog from a Google search :) )

Dana King said...

Thanks, Addlepated. I read the thread over there, and I appreciate you letting me know. I had to look up ARG to find out what it meant, and I still can't believe someone thought it was worth $25 plus a used tape player to involve me. I'll have to file this away to use in one of my own stories sometime.

Addlepated said...

Out of curiosity, what (if anything) was written on your tape? The other tapes have had a number / number on theirs. Some of the number ones have been very European in their pronounced serifs - mine is "2/1":

Anonymous said...

Hey, I'm also following this over at unfiction. Just out of curiosity, any reason why someone would mail you clues? I'm guessing you havent been involved in any ARGs its curious why the PM sent it to you. Maybe you just got lucky, who knows?

Do tell us if you get anything else a tad odd, another helping hand is always welcome.

Goof luck if you do write about all this!

Dana King said...

I had a nice reply to each of you, but blogger ate it. Take 2.

The marking on my tape definitely fall into the "1/2" category. I wasn't sure until I read your thread last night, as the one is an odd shape, but, based on what I read and saw there, I'm confident that's what it says.

I can only guess, as I didn't even know what ARG was until last night. I have had a handful of short stories published, and have written over a hundred books reviews of mysteries and thrillers for a web site. ( Someone must have picked me up frm there; there's enougn information on my profile here that my address could have been found by a simply White Pages search. (Why they spent $25 to mail it to me is anyone's guess.)

I'll be happy to pass along anything else I might receive or hear about. I have too many irons in the fire to get actively involved myself, but I'll help if I can.

It looks like you have a nice community over there at Unfiction. Have fun and good luck.

Addlepated said...

Hey Dana - one last little thing. There's a barcode sticker inside the battery compartment. If you get a chance, could you please let me know what your "Device ID" and "Part No" numbers are? Some of us who got recorders were able to use ours to decode a TinyURL, but I'm wondering if there's another. Thanks!

Dana King said...


The inside of my battery compartment says Device ID 995; Part No. 1.

I hope this helps. Let me know if you need me to check anything else. I still have everything they sent me.

Addlepated said...

Great, thanks so much for checking!