You ain't the only Catfish

By: Walter Geirsbach

"You don't talk much," the guy wearing a blue shirt said. He looked like an ordinary Joe having a conversation except that he and his partner, the other bookend, were cops charging me with murder.

"Duh," I said. "I'm a writer. Writers write and everyone else shoots off their mouth. Mouths."

"Whaddya write? Some egghead philosophy?" Blue Shirt's buddy resembled a beer keg wearing an unmade bed.

"I write crime stories," I explained carefully. "I'm an Edgar nominee. I have six books in print in four languages. I speak at conferences and have a Twitter following of thousands." These cops were making me nervous. Stupid people always make me feel stilted.

"It's murder mysteries, right?" Beer Keg flashed a 15 watt light of recognition. "Like Jessica Fletcher in Murder, She Wrote."

"There's a difference," Blue Shirt interrupted. "Malcolm here writes sexy mysteries under the name of Carolyn Foulkes. It's a pen name, so no one knows it's really a guy writing these kinky whodunits."

"Pervy writer, right?"

"No," Blue corrected. "Pervy describes a middle-aged guy who stares too much and makes girls nervous. It's a step above kinky, but one below stalker. Malcolm's kinky. He makes up murder mysteries. His motive for this real-life murder is that his girlfriend Jennifer was a victim and needed rescuing. That's why Malcolm's going down for the murder of Hamilton Dietrich III."

"I did not murder Mr. Dietrich," I protested. "Anything – anything – I may have done was justifiable in defending the niece he was abusing."

"Ha!" Beer Keg snorted. "You entered his house, unplugged the igniter on his range and turned on the gas. You knew he was a smoker, that he'd light up when he got home. He wouldn't smell the gas. My wife says smokers never smell nothing."

"Actually," Blue Shirt said, "it's more complex. It's a case of Malcolm here being catfished."

"Huh?" we both said at once.

I felt flummoxed watching the inane leading the idiot. These cops lived in a fantasy world, one I could never create in the worst pot boiler novel.

"Catfished. Gulled by an impersonator," Blue Shirt explained. "Jennifer Robbins was Malcolm's Facebook floozy, his pubescent pen pal, his late night phone mate."

"Don't speak of Jennifer like that!" I burst out. "She is pure and unsullied, and Mr. Hamilton Dietrich the Third was treating his niece like a virtual slave. He performed unspeakable acts. Jennifer required surgery because of his brutality, an abortion following repeated acts of incest."

Blue Shirt sipped his container of coffee. "Jennifer said all this, right?"

"You're darn tootin' she did. I saw the photos of her bruises. She'd be in tears when she called late at night, often from a pay phone when he'd take away her cell or hide her laptop."

"But she lived in Springfield," Blue offered. "A ward of her uncle."

"I thought they lived in Massachusetts," Beer Keg said.

"Keep quiet," Blue said. "You say Jennifer is a college sophomore who was yanked out of the U of Mass by Uncle Hamilton." I nodded. "Raped by him in a service plaza on the Mass Pike." My head bobbed again. "Tied up naked in Dietrich's basement where there were rats."

"Jeez, I hate rats," the Beer Keg interjected.

"So, you drove up to Springfield, fixed the gas range, took side roads so there'd be no EZ Pass trace. Then," he smiled like the Grim Reaper at a highway pileup, "you checked the Springfield online newspaper for the hot news that Mr. Dietrich was fried."

"Fried Dietrich, that's good," Beer Keg laughed.

"Shut up. Pity, Malcolm, but you suffer from research rapture."

My eyebrows rose in confusion.

Blue Shirt waved his hands, inviting words like a magician summoning a rabbit from a hat. "Your Carolyn Foulkes alter ego gets off on making exhaustive studies of a subject, like cannibalism for You Are Who You Eat, and your Miss Foulkes gets so caught up in your subject that she – you –hangs a few corpses on the topic and calls it a novel. In this case, we got a tip – probably from Jennifer – that you made the hit."

"Why, I never heard of…" I protested.

"Forensics is going through your computer right now," he said. "All your research on ways to kill people. And all the love letters from Miss Kissy Face." He leaned forward, "Who you have never met!"

"Jennifer pleaded for my help! You've seen her messages, her posts, her tweets, her Instagram photos."

"But, Malcolm, you never researched your Miss Robbins. Jennifer Robbins is a creation. She does not exist. There's no record of her enrolling in college, no driver's license, no birth certificate."

"Library card?" Beer Keg offered.

"You've been tricked by a catfish, someone pretending to be someone by using social media to create a false identity. This someone – who we hope to find – put your heart in her pocket, got you bamboozled until you ran to rescue her by murdering Mr. Dietrich."

"No! That can't be. I'm going to meet Jennifer in Boston in two weeks. We're in love. I'm going to ask her to marry me."

"Malcolm, don't you understand?" Blue Shirt was now solicitous, inviting, the Good Cop. "Jennifer Robbins isn't real. You don't even believe you're Malcolm Mezinis. You tell readers you're Carolyn Foulkes. You ain't the only catfish in the pond, fooling people. But, you're going to end up in a very real prison."

His accusation electrified me. Jennifer a piece of fiction? If a person wasn't who they said they were, what kind of world were we living in?

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