In August of 2014, my wife and I attended our first writers’ conference together. We went to Killer Nashville, which — for those of you who don’t know it — is a fantastic conference for crime writers. I went with a manuscript and, eventually, through contacts made at the conference, found my agent. And until today, almost nine months later, the good people at Maria Carvainis and the incomparable Elizabeth Copps were the greatest things to come out of that experience. But today, friends, I learned that Killer Nashville is, in more ways than one, the gift that keeps on giving.
Apparently, it also taught my wife how to fight crime.
First, some background: Crystal and I got married in July of 2008. About a year later, for our first anniversary present, we bought each other Electra bicycles. We opted for Electras because, well, we’re grown-ups now, and neither of us had ever owned a truly expensive bike and thought the cost alone might encourage us to keep using them after the first week of euphoric togetherness, those yearned-for spring and summer afternoons spent pedaling past fields of blooming flowers. Not the greatest logic, to be sure, but there were other, sounder ideas at play, too: the craftsmanship, the engineering, the idea of something that would endure. We bought cruiser models, the kind you might take to the beach and poke around on leisurely. (According to the logos emblazoned on the sides, their design features “patented flatfoot technology”; to be perfectly honest, I still don’t know what this means).
I’d like to tell you that we kept riding them and riding them and that every glorious sunset here in Georgia ended with our biking silhouettes tall against it, but that wouldn’t be the truth. In fact, we rode them for about six months, semi-regularly, then put them in the shed and forgot about them for a while.
This past May, feeling guilty and wistful and in need of some good, heart-pumping exercise, we took them out and brought them into the shop for repairs and tune-ups, and we began riding them to the college campus where we work, about a mile from our house, to feed a stray cat that lives under my office building. In the evenings, we returned and left them unchained on our carport, hidden by our parked cars. We live in a small town, and while small-town life doesn’t always suit us, it does carry with it the distinct advantage of letting out slack when it comes to trust. Alas, about a week ago, during the day, when both cars were gone from the carport on separate errands and the bikes were left exposed, that slack pulled taught, and someone crept onto our property in broad daylight and stole my black Electra.
We did our due diligence as citizens: we made the police report and thanked the officer, thinking to ourselves that the bike was lost forever. We felt victimized. We felt responsible. After all, by leaving the bike unchained, hadn’t I supplied the criminal with opportunity? We talked about the possibility of whether the thief would be foolish enough to ride it around the neighborhood, whether we’d see it ditched along the roadside, whether it was already in a truck somewhere driving away. Anyway, we went on with the business and pleasure of our lives.
Today, at work, I got a call from my wife. “I’ve called the police,” Crystal said. “I saw a guy riding your bike. I’ve followed him into an apartment complex. I’m going to hang back, but the cops are on their way.”
Oh, friends. How to describe, now, the latent thrill of your wife tailing a thief? Or recovering your stolen property like Wonder Woman? I won’t even try here.
Instead, this: at Killer Nashville last August, Crystal and I both attended a seminar by a female private investigator. She covered surveillance equipment and surveillance techniques. Among her advice: “Hang back and fly casual.” When Crystal spotted the man on my bike, pedaling down the street toward the apartment complex, she did just that. She was driving her Kia on an errand to Walgreens. She turned after him, remembering what the P.I. in Nashville had said and keeping her distance, all the while forming a description of him for the police, anticipating the inevitable moment when he would run. And run, he did. But the details were fixed by then: white sport shirt, shorts, sandals over socks, a beard. A man not necessarily young, but dressing young. A quick process that played out in her head, one picked up in a seminar meant for fiction.
The time was 10 a.m. Crystal waited on the cops, they got there, and she and I texted details for about fifteen minutes after that. She sent word that the officers had found the bike, but the guy riding it was gone. So I drove to the complex to collect the bike. It was mine, for sure, scratched and muddy. Crystal was beaming, and the cops had nothing but praise for her actions. Quick-thinking. Eagle eyes. Good judgment in hanging back.
We were late for a veterinary appointment by then, and when we walked into the doctor’s office, carrier in hand, Crystal apologized. “I’m sorry we’re late,” she said. “I was fighting crime.” And it was my turn to beam.
Disclaimer: If you witness a crime occurring, do not assume a writer’s conference has taught you to fight it. Use good judgment, as any writer would.