Sunday, January 24, 2016

What Kind of Sleuth Would You Make?

Did you ever wonder what kind of sleuth you would make in real life? Here are several scenarios. What do your responses say about your potential detective skills? Take this totally unscientific quiz and find out!

Most of these incidents are real (they actually happened to me) and two are pure fiction (I made them up). Can you guess which are real and which are not? Read each scene and decide what you think is the best option for you under the circumstances. Which answer makes you a Daffy Duck (Goofy is as goofy does), a Sitting Duck (you're just asking for trouble by sticking your amateur neck out), a Dead Duck (you're probably not going to survive the experience if you get caught in the act of snooping) , or a Lucky Duck (the written scene is a piece of fiction!)

Scene One:
Do you ever wonder if you've got what it takes to "save the day"? It's so easy to fantasize stumbling into a murderous plot and rescuing the victim just as the bad guy gets ready to dispatch him or her. But is it? You're having coffee in a small café, sitting by yourself as you flip through your emails on your laptop. A heavy-set, bearded man wearing a fedora, a dark sunglasses, and a black wool overcoat waddles past you, breathing heavily. You feel the back of the booth shake as he sits down at the table behind you. A moment later, you realize he is not alone as you find yourself listening to a hushed conversation between the man and an unseen woman. You try not to eavesdrop, but it's almost impossible not to hear their whispers back and forth. When you hear the phrases "insurance policy", "accident", and "alibi", you are immediately on guard. What do you do?

A. Pull out your cell phone and record the rest their conversation, on the off-chance you can catch them in the act of planning a murder.
B. Record their conversation, photograph them, and immediately post it to your Facebook page, warning the world that someone is in danger.
C. Get yourself another cup of coffee and continue eavesdropping.
D. Hit the "save" button, because this murder-for-hire scheme is going to make you a boatload of money when you publish "Death Benefits", your latest insurance fraud thriller, because this scene never happened.

In real life, you'd be a Daffy Duck to record the conversation, photograph the couple, and post everything on your Facebook page. What if they're not guilty of any actual crime? You are violating their civil rights and invading their privacy. But if they're guilty? You've just publicly identified yourself and made it easy for them to track you down. Yes, they'd be suspects if anything happened to you, but that doesn't guarantee they would be jailed for harming you. It might seem smarter to secretly record the pair's conversation, but in most states, unless you are associated with a law enforcement agency that has probable cause to monitor a dangerous situation, that's not going to catch any bad guys and put them behind bars.  At best, you might be able to save a potential victim from harm by interrupting the plot, but that recording won't be introduced into the court record as evidence because it was illegally obtained. More importantly, if these people are serious about killing someone, you might wind up a Dead Duck when they figure out you're snooping on them. All they have to do is steal that secret recording you made and investigators will probably never learn the truth of your demise. Should you happen to overhear their plan to murder someone because you're eavesdropping, you might be a Sitting Duck when they figure out you're listening, but if you contact law enforcement with the information, professional investigators might be able to stop a murder, especially if you call them before the couple leaves the café. Fortunately, you won't have to do that because this is actually a scene concocted by a Lucky Duck.

Scene Two:
Spy thrillers are always filled with glamorous locales, sexy characters, and lots of action, but is that real life? Unlike the wild exploits of the infamous James Bond and other fictional intelligence officers, good spies keep their actions hidden from view and never advertise their work. They don't like to draw attention to themselves. You're a student visiting London, staying at a youth hostel. On the first day there, a charming young Arab man introduces himself to you. He offers to show you the sights of his city. Everything seems fine at first, but you begin to get nervous when you catch him in a lie...and then another one...and another. You decide that it's best to go back to your youth hostel, only to find that your companion is doing everything he can to prevent that from happening. Starting to panic, you insist you must go. You grab a taxi back to where you are staying, only to find you have been locked out. You scale the fence, desperate to get back to your accommodation, where your luggage is waiting for you. In the morning, you are worried when you see the same young man waiting outside for you. He is very persistent, so you try to give him the slip, making your way to the public tennis courts nearby with your tennis racquet and balls. He follows. Suddenly, a handsome Israeli from the nearby embassy approaches you and wants to play tennis with you. He seems friendly enough, but those piercing blue eyes of his watch you like a hawk. You suspect he's most interested in the Arab student who is following you. What do you do?

A. Run back to your youth hostel as fast as your little legs can carry you and book a flight back home pronto.
B. Decide to find the nearest double-decker bus and take a tour of the Tower of London.
C. Hit some tennis balls with the Israeli, even as you keep an eye on what's happening around you.
D. Hit the "save" button, because this piece of fictional intrigue is going to be the start of "Girl Caught in the Middle of a Deadly Tug-of-War", a great spy novel because it's pure fiction.

Given the fact that it looks like you've gotten caught in the middle of some kind of unsavory international intrigue, you don't really have a lot of good options. If you run back to your youth hostel, you might be running head first into danger and that could make you a Dead Duck. If you skip out, hoping to avoid a catastrophe by hopping onto a double-decker, what's to stop the Arab student, who's already following you, from getting on that same bus, perhaps with something sinister in mind (oh, just imagine the wild bus chase if the tennis-playing Israeli joins you on the tour!) You'd be a Daffy Duck to take that kind of risk. So far, the handsome Israeli with the piercing blue eyes hasn't done anything overtly deceitful. Being a Sitting Duck on the tennis court and hitting some balls back and forth is probably going to be your safest choice. It sends a strong message to the Arab student that it's time to take a hike. And no, this was not a plot dreamed up by a Lucky Duck who can type.

Scene Three:
Ever wonder what you would do when you unexpectedly come face-to-face with a dangerous situation? Will you jump in and play hero or run for the hills? Most of us never know until that moment arrives. You're sitting in a car, having a conversation with an acquaintance. You notice a commotion ten feet away. A young man, blonde, well-dressed, is screaming at a city police officer, who is yelling back. The officer grabs the young man as the hostilities escalate. Suddenly they tangle, exchanging punches. There is a loud thump on the hood of your car as you sit frozen in the driver's seat. Now the pair is wrestling just a few feet from you. The young man threatens to kill the police officer. You observe the young man reaching for the police officer's weapon as he tries to call for back-up. You realize someone might get shot and that someone could be you. What do you do?

A. Honk the horn, so they can come to their senses.
B. Get out of the car and help the police officer to restrain the aggressor, allowing him to complete the call for back-up.
C. Start the engine, back up, and quickly exit the parking space, putting the pedal to the metal, expecting them to get the message when they fall off your car.
D. Hit the "save" button, because you can already see your plot for "Gonna Kill That Cop!", an exciting detective novel that tracks a wanna-be social media star as he films his exploits for Youtube.

Think about this a moment...if you honk the horn and distract the cop, that agitated kid could get his hands on that weapon and kill the cop. You'd be a Daffy Duck to do that. But what happens if you try to drive off while they're wrestling on the hood of your car? If that kid gets the gun, YOU could be the one who gets shot and you'd wind up a Dead Duck. Even though you're taking a huge risk, your best option is to get out of the car and grab the kid's hands, allowing the cop to direct fellow officers  to his location. This might make you a Sitting Duck, but better that than to stand by and risk someone getting killed. And no, this wasn't written by a Lucky Duck, sitting safe and sound in front of a laptop. FYI, if your first thought isn't to get the hell out of there, there's something wrong with you. You should always want to survive any dangerous situation. Courage to act comes when you ask yourself : "What would I want someone to do for me if the shoe was on the other foot?"

Scene Four:
How many times does a gun-running plot show up in books, movies, and television? Wham! Bam! Talk about an adrenaline rush! Or is it? You're at a social gathering. You're sober, but you can't say the same for some of the other guests. A stranger brags that he has been involved in a covert operation on behalf of a government agency, helping to transport weapons to another country. He turns out to be the relative of an acquaintance of yours who works in law enforcement. He also turns out to be addicted to cocaine, of which he has a seemingly unending supply. What do you do?

A. Leave the party as quickly as you can without causing a scene and hope that when the braggart comes to his senses, he won't remember his indiscreet blabbing.
B. Tell the cop relative his boy is off his rocker and possibly a danger to others.
C. Call the government agency and report the incident, so that it can be investigated.
D. Hit the "save" button, because this piece of fiction is going to be the quintessential eighties "drug wars" thriller. You can call it, "The Day It Snowed Bullets and Glocks".

If you think that it's a good idea to call up a government agency and report a stranger's erratic behavior, you're definitely a Daffy Duck. For one thing, you never actually saw any government credentials for the guy. Is your best option to contact the relative? What if the relative is involved in running the weapons? Maybe he's the brains behind the operation. How do you know this is actually connected to a government  agency and is not part of a sophisticated and illegal drug trafficking operation, loaded with corrupt cops protecting the criminals? You might wind up a VERY Dead Duck. Unless you have actual proof that the coked-up stranger poses a direct threat to you or anyone else, walking away is your best option. Get out of there as soon as you can and consider yourself a Sitting Duck at least for a few days, until you're sure the coked-up stranger thinks he's safe. In most cases like this, international smuggling operations, be they weapons- or drug-related, are at the very least suspected and possibly monitored. While this whack-a-doodle incident sounds like pure fiction, no Lucky Duck with Typing Skills plotted this out.

Scene Five:
Ever wonder what it would be  like to have a criminal confess all to you? What could be sweeter than bringing a bad guy to justice? It would be the ultimate detective triumph, wouldn't it? Unless you get that confession in a moment of weakness, from a guilt-ridden criminal. You're stranded in an unfamiliar crowd, dragged there by an old school chum who immediately goes off to pursue her current love interest. A man you've never met before strikes up a conversation with you. You both step outside when the party gets too rowdy. During your conversation, he makes a doozy of a criminal confession. The minute you hear it, you immediately wish he hadn't shared that with you. Now he's waiting for your reaction. What do you do?

A. You force yourself to be as calm as possible, even though your heart is pounding, and you keep your responses as neutral as possible.
B. You chuckle and tell him he's brilliant. You almost fell for his con. It's a good thing you know he's fibbing because otherwise, you'd drive yourself to the nearest police station and report him.
C. Tell him you think that what he did is the most vile thing imaginable.
D. You hit the "save" button, because you can feel it in your bones. "The Man Who Didn't Know When to Shut Up" is going to be a New York Times best seller.

Is it your job to investigate the wild claims of some guy you never met before? Do you have the skills and resources to track down leads and verify information? Most amateur sleuths in fiction don't, but that doesn't stop them from plowing ahead. But in real life, the answers are never all that simple and the clues aren't that easy to solve, even for people who are trained in forensics and other aspects of investigation, working with physical evidence. Never treat a confession with disgust unless you're in a safe place, surrounded by lots of burly guys with bulging muscles who are on your side. That's the kind of thing that could make you a Dead Duck. And mocking a guy who has just admitted committing serious crimes is never a good idea, especially because he's likely to get really, really, REALLY angry. Only a Daffy Duck would do something that silly. As much as it would be nice to say this scene was written by a Lucky Duck who loves fiction, it wasn't. If you can manage to convince the confessing criminal that you don't have a strong opinion either way about his terrible secret, you might be a Sitting Duck for a while, but things will get better once you put some physical distance between you and the man who has unburdened himself to you. Trust me when I say a guy like this has probably already popped up on law enforcement's radar. Let the professionals handle this.

Scene Six:
Hostage situations seem to be more and more frequent these days, whether it starts with a carjacking or a robbery. In fiction, we often think that just having the SWAT team roll in with their heavily armored vehicles will convince the bad guys to surrender. But before that SWAT team is activated, there has to be verified threat. You're sitting in a parked car at a gas station just off the Garden State Parkway. In the next lane, you spy a woman in the back seat of an SUV. She appears to be distraught. In the front seat are two burly men, laughing as they converse. They seem to be ignoring the woman's crying. She seems startled when she catches you watching her and buries her head in her lap. Is she being held against her will? Did these men kidnap her? The gas station attendant finishes pumping gas in the SUV and the driver pays with a credit card. He's about to drive away. What do you do?

A. You get out of your car and approach the woman, knocking loudly on the window. You ask her if everything is okay and if she needs help.
B. You tell the gas station attendant to yank the hose ASAP from your car and replace the cap. You take off after the SUV while you quickly dial the New Jersey State Police to report a hostage situation.
C. You nonchalantly get out of your car, walk behind the SUV and snap a photo of the license plate and any identifying marks, such as a dealer logo, finish your transaction with the gas station attendant, and get back on the Garden State Parkway,  to tail the SUV for a few miles, observing the occupants.
D. You hit the "save" button because this will make a great opening scene for your newest mystery series, featuring the adorable amateur sleuth Brianna Hornsby and her equally cute sidekick, Delia Delvecchio, matching wits with the two thugs in the front seat.

There you go, you big ol' Daffy Duck, imaging that a weepy woman in the back seat of an SUV is evidence of a hostage situation. She must have been kidnapped and dragged, kicking and screaming, into that vehicle. No doubt that's why the two men are laughing. If you report this sighting as a hostage situation, don't be surprised when the New Jersey State Police hand you a bill and expect you to pay the costs of having their SWAT team mount a rescue. Let's hope they don't charge you with falsely reporting a crime. But let's just consider for a moment there is the slightest chance you're onto something. If you go up to the window of the SUV and knock on it, drawing attention to the crying woman, what do you imagine the laughing men will do? If they really did kidnap her, they are probably armed and  dangerous. Before this drama all plays out, you will likely wind up a Dead Duck. If you absolutely feel you must snoop, do it discreetly, Lucky Duck-style. Snap a photo of the license plate. Tail the vehicle for a couple of miles. If you see something suspicious, be sensible in how you report it. Then again, since this scenario was fabricated, it's a moot point.