Some people are just naturally gullible. L used to be one of them. Starting when he was in elementary school, he had the reputation for falling for even the most obvious tricks, which made him a top target for pranks. When he entered the land of real life, the pranks suddenly became serious, and he started losing real money for them. It could even be funny in a way how easily he fell for these scams, but unfortunately L is no longer around to tell us about them. He now lives in the afterlife of police investigations and gag orders.
Getting to that point usually involves long stories, hitmen, or money. The latter two played a big part in L’s situation, but the story isn’t as long as you might think.
One day, L was on a pirated TV website on his endless and hopeless quest to have one of his favorite teams, whether it be Real Madrid, the New England Patriots, or the Boston Celtics, actually win a championship. After clicking the link for the Real Madrid vs. Malaga game, he was flooded with advertisements for 30 seconds before he could watch the game.
The biggest advertisement, in the middle of the screen, showed a sloppily photoshopped image of a smiling man holding a stock photo of $100 bills. This didn’t matter to L, nor to any of the other suckers who were dumb enough to fall for this. Next to the man, there was a colorful, inviting box with the words “GET MONEY NOW!” scribbled onto it. As you might expect, L proudly clicked on the link and was redirected several times until he landed on a webpage titled “Stock Marketplace –– Tutorial.”
L quickly read through the instructions, how important could they be? He checked the box that said he had read the terms of service and agreed with them, and clicked the “next” button. The next page asked for his credit card number. L had promised himself to be a little bit more careful with his spending after his credit score tanked. He had been warned that a debt collector would show up at his house and they would have an unpleasant conversation. He got out of that situation by pleading with his “friend” from middle school who now worked at a very important government position to give him a loan. The friend wasn’t too happy to lend him the money, mainly because he knew he would never see it again, but out of compassion he reluctantly agreed.
L didn’t want to get back in the same situation, because he had a feeling his “friend” had limits to how much money he was going to donate to someone he probably hated very much. However, believing that this “Stock Marketplace” was going to earn him money like the ad said, he took the risk.
Once he got onto the site, he saw he could make a “risk-free investment” of $50. He put it in a random stock, waited a minute, and then he got a message saying ‘congratulations, your investment is now worth $60.” He had earned $10 in a minute. Of course, he had no idea that the stocks were fake and that this was basically a rigged gambling website, but nobody who knew him would expect him to figure that out.
He decided that he would put a lot more money on the next stock. If he earned $10 with a $50 investment then with a $5,000 investment he would earn $1,000. It was something he had learned years ago in algebra class –– proportions, he thought. He clicked the button, and after a minute of glossing over the thought of finally getting rid of all his debts, even the one to his “friend,” he finally understood that this made-up stock market didn’t run on proportions.
Sorry, the screen said in small font, but your investment is now worth only $400. That was all. L stared at the screen for a minute, understanding that for the millionth time in his life he had been ripped off.
He just kept on staring at the screen for a couple minutes, but he was interrupted by a notification from his phone. He took it out of his pocket and saw that it was an alert from his credit card company. They had canceled his transaction with Stock Marketplace because it was blacklisted. At first he didn’t understand what transaction the app was talking about, he hadn’t pressed any buttons, but then he realized that the website was automatically charging him for each investment he lost money in. Anyway, he had been saved again, this time by Bank of America, and that meant a celebration. He turned off his computer and headed for his favorite bar.
He spent a long time in the bar, trying to attract girls with his stories of being miraculously saved from getting into bad situations. This obviously didn’t work, it only reinforced everyone’s belief that he was a loser lucky to be alive. Eventually, like every other time he came to this place, he gave up around midnight, walked back the five blocks to his apartment, and fell asleep.
The next morning, L was woken up very early, at around five a.m., by his phone ringing. He reached for it from his nightstand, and saw that he had been continuously called for half an hour by someone whose caller ID was 0000. Apparently he was in such a deep sleep he hadn’t noticed. He pressed talk and wondered who would call at such a disturbingly early hour.
It could be Marco, the owner of the neighborhood coffee shop where he had applied for a job. It could also be his landlord complaining about the lateness of his rent payments. And maybe, just maybe, it could be Marie, his ex-girlfriend who had broken up with him after he had dropped out of UDC. L had stalked her Instagram and Snapchat and saw that she was still single, which left the slight possibility that she might want to come back to him.
However, it was none of the above. The voice on the other end was very deep and sounded vaguely Russian. He said his name was Eddie and suggested that they go straight to business. L wasn’t really awake enough to talk business but Eddie didn’t seem to care.
“As the treasurer of Stock Marketplace company,” he said, “I alert you that you owe us $4,600 American dollars. You have 15 hours to put money in box outside your building. No police, we have gun.” He then said something in another language, and L heard something that sounded like someone banging on a trash can, and then screaming. Before L could explain his financial troubles to Eddie, he hung up.
Most people would think this was a dumb prank. Not L, he believed everything the man said. And that meant he needed to come up with $4,600 quickly.
Why does this always have to happen to me? he asked himself. Every year, he thought, I get ripped off by some idiotic creep who sometimes isn’t even trying to rip me off, but it always ends up with me being thousands of dollars in debt. That was true, but he comforted himself by remembering that he always got out of these situations in the end. Three times his parents had bailed him out, last time his “friend” did it. Neither were likely to do so again. He had no obvious options.
The reason that L always got out of these situations is that when he really wanted to use it, he had a very good memory. The reason he didn’t like using it was that there was probably a lot more stuff he would like to forget than remember. But this was a life-or-death situation. And if he could vaguely remember the name of one person who might be able to help him, then he would be on the life side. And if he didn’t, then he was screwed.
L thought very hard. The one place where he remembered that he met a lot of rich and smart people was two years ago in his 8th grade reunion. Everyone who bothered to come had just graduated from college and had gotten a good job. He had just started going to UDC, which was enough to please some of his teachers. He remembered that he had been given a paper with everyone’s name, job, and phone number. Of course, he had lost it. But then he thought harder, and he remembered that they put the paper on the school website.
He quickly opened the browser on his phone and went to alicedeal.org. The paper wasn’t on the front page, and he wouldn’t expect it to be there because it was two years old. He started going to random pages until under the “ADCA” tab he found a page that said “alumni.” He selected his school year and soon found what he had been looking for, the list of all the people who came to the reunion.
First he looked at the names, trying to find some of the people that were close enough to him to remember who he was. Only one came to the reunion, a short German kid who was a lawyer somewhere in New York. He had a feeling he might need a lawyer soon, but that was not an immediate priority. Then he started looking at the jobs. He was looking for some banker or maybe a cop or security guard. There were four people that worked in the financial industry, he knew none of them. There was one cop, one he even knew slightly, but then he remembered Eddie’s warning about “no police.”
Eventually, he found the name of his “friend”, who was a diplomat. Even if he wasn’t going to loan him money, L remembered that he had said that he worked in the International Organized Crime subsection in the State Department, which sort of sounded like what he was facing.
L called the phone number that was listed on the paper. It rang three times, then a message started playing:
“Hello, this is Verizon customer service. The number that you are trying to reach has been temporarily shut down by request of the owner, please try again later. Thank you.”
He called it again, and the same message played. He had no time to waste. He had put a work number there too, and he called it.
“Hello, this is Molly at the Organized Crime section of the State Department, how can I help you?”
L was expecting it to go straight to his friend, not to this person, whoever she is.
“Um, I want to speak with Mr. Lehrer. It’s, you know, uh, extremely urgent.”
“Mr Lehrer left for a post in Moscow last month,” she said.
“Yeah, you see that’s a slight problem. I sort of really need to talk to him.”
“Sorry, I can’t reach him. Even if I could I’m not allowed to disclose information to anonymous strangers. Have a nice day.” She hung up.
L could see that his search wasn’t going anywhere. If his friend was in Moscow, then he probably couldn’t help him. Even if he wasn’t, then he had no way to reach him. Time to try someone else. There was a slight problem with that, though. Everyone else on the list either hated him or had no idea who he was. Then something caught his eye, Adrian Lehrer wasn’t the only person on the list that worked for the State Department. There was another one who worked in the Foreign Aid section.
He only vaguely remembered this guy, Ian, who rode on his bus and was in a class with him once or twice. But he did remember seeing him hanging out with Adrian, which meant they probably knew each other. He dialed the number.
“Hello,” Ian answered, “who is it?”
“Yeah, I’m L, a person who rode your bus in middle school.”
“I don’t remember you, what do you want? I’m busy.”
“You remember Adrian Lehrer, he went to Deal?”
“He also works here. He’s in Russia now, what happened to him?”
“Nothing, I just want his number so I can call him. I, um, have important information to give him.”
“What type of important information could you have?”
“Not important, just give me his number.”
“Fine, it’s +7 2365-403-891. Happy now?”
L hung up and immediately dialed the number. It rang once, and then, he heard a message in what he assumed to be Russian. He tried a couple more times, and he kept on getting the same message. He glanced at the clock, it was 10:48 a.m., he only had nine of his 15 hours left to get the money.
He threw his phone on the bed in frustration. Why was his friend so unreachable? The only other option he could think of was to start an online fundraiser, but those never worked. In fact, it seemed as though the only point of online fundraisers was to give you false hope before they inevitably failed. No bank was going to loan him money, and his childhood friends were even less likely to donate to his get-out-of-trouble fund.
But then, he had a new idea. If his friends weren’t going to help him, then maybe his teachers would. He remembered from the reunion that one of them was dead, another was living in another state, and that left his science and math teachers to organize the reunion. His math teacher would probably just tell him “l told you so” and scold him for not listening in the finance lessons. But his science teacher was a different story.
He was a very nice teacher that could do many things, and L was sure he would either loan him money or help him find Adrian. L especially remembered that he sat behind Adrian in that class. L had done many annoying and dumb things to him, which was why Adrian hated him.
L held his breath and dialed the number. It was answered after three rings.
“Hello?” the science teacher asked.
“Hi, um, it’s L, the kid from your fourth period in your first year teaching.”
“Remember me? I sat behind Adrian but you moved me because I didn’t know how to peer edit an essay.”
“Oh, you. I remember you. What do you want?”
“So, it’s a weird story, but I probably owe some money to some guy Eddie. Problem is no one is going to loan me money.”
“You know, teachers are poor. We don’t make that much money.”
“Fine, you see I think this Eddie is some foreign gangster. Adrian apparently is an expert on these groups and he’s in Russia now with the embassy.”
“Problem is that I can’t reach him. I got his number from his friend but it dosen’t work. Can you help?”
“Okay, I will try, but I can’t guarantee anything.”
L hung up and sat down on his bed. He had now come to the conclusion that he probably wasn’t going to get the money that he needed to pay Eddie and the best he could do was get some information from Adrian on who exactly he owed money to. Except he wasn’t even sure that would happen considering how hard it had been to make contact with him. He thought about his options for a couple more minutes, and then his phone suddenly buzzed. He picked it up, it was Marco. He had a job.
Once he got to the coffee shop, Marco quickly explained to him his pretty simple job. He was supposed to take orders for customers and type each option on his computer. It was extremely boring, and he even thought about taking all the money from the cash register but he knew Marco would find out before he could get the cash to Eddie. More importantly, he worked from 11:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., leaving him only three hours to get the money once he ended his shift. And he got no messages from his science teacher his entire shift, which probably meant that he hadn’t found Adrian’s number.
He ran the five blocks back to his apartment and decided the only way he could get out of this mess was to run away. He could leave most of his possessions at his house, he had no need for them. He had no idea where he was going to hide, probably in some forest somewhere, although he knew nothing about wilderness survival. And that way he hoped Eddie wouldn’t find him.
With no particular destination in mind, he got on the bus to Union Station with his last remaining money, about $60, and hoped it was enough to buy a train ticket. It probably wasn’t, but that was fine because he could stop at the bank and withdraw the other little money he had there. And if that didn’t work he would sell his computer. Either way, he was somehow going to get enough money to run off to wherever it was that Eddie couldn’t find him.
There was one small problem with that though. When he reached the station, he quickly figured out that $60 wasn’t enough to buy a train ticket. So he went to an ATM, except it didn’t work. He put in his PIN three times, but it always gave him an error message. He was sure he put it in right, but he was running out of time so he decided to try his last option, pawning his computer.
That wasn’t going to work either, because as he discovered, there weren’t any Apple stores in Union Station, and he was doubtful he could do it anywhere else. Not only could he not get any money, but by looking at the signs, he discovered that he needed an ID to get on the train, and he had left it at home. He was stuck in DC, unless he felt like endlessly walking toward some imaginary place.
At first, he panicked. But then he realized that DC was a big city. He could hide in some place downtown and no one could find him. He didn’t know where exactly that place was, but he knew he was safer hiding in an alley then in his apartment, where Eddie knew where he was. He just walked out of the station and found a Starbucks nearby. He decided to sit there until it closed, then he could figure out his hiding place for tonight.
While he was there, he thought about what the people in his favorite crime shows would have done. He wasn’t fit enough to win a fight against some gorilla and he couldn’t completely transform himself overnight. The one thing he could remember that nearly everybody did was get rid of their phones, which could be tracked. The AT&T store was across the street, but once he got up, his phone rang. It was his science teacher.
“Listen,”he said “I got Adrian’s number. He’s in a meeting in Belgium.”
“Whatever, what is it?”
“+7 832 4512 043.”
“So it’s a Russian number?”
“Because I got his Russian number from his friend, but it didn’t work.”
“Why, do you know the friend?”
“No, I mean not since middle school.”
“Then why would he give you the number?”
L shrugged, “I don’t know.”
“Whatever, just call him if you’d like.”
L hung up and quickly dialed this new number. What he didn’t realize was that it was the middle of the night in Brussels.
“Hello?” a tired voice answered.
“What do you want? If it’s another loan, then the answer is no, especially at this hour.”
“No it’s not that. I heard you work against organized criminals.”
“I try to, but they are usually smarter than us.”
“Well, I think I have a little problem with this guy Eddie who wants to kill me because he thinks I owe him money.”
“Who is he, a loan shark?”
“No, a scammer.”
“Well, do you actually owe him money?”
“What do you mean, sort of?”
“I lost a lot of money to his thing called Stock Marketplace. But I think it was rigged.”
“Wait, you fell for that scam? Me and my EU colleagues would probably agree that you’re the first. And in that case, no I’m not giving you any money, so good luck paying them back.” And with that, he hung up.
L dropped his phone on the floor. The whole reason he had not ran out of the city in the morning was that he was sure he would get advice and maybe money from his friend. Before he could decide what to do, someone tapped him on the shoulder. L looked up at her.
“Have you ever heard of the opportunities you could get by trading Forex?” she asked.
“No.” L had no idea what that was.
“If you want to hear about them, then come with me to the back.”
L stood up and followed her to the back.
“So this Forex thing, how does it work?” L asked.
“It doesn’t,” the woman said. In a quieter voice she asked, “Where’s the money?” She put a gun to his chest.
“At my house,” L said. And with that lie, a silenced gunshot entered his body, and two seconds later he was dead on the floor.