One day, Ian noticed a severed foot in his mailbox. The foot was sitting on his mail. It was sitting on his Chase credit card bill and his Dollar Saver ad. He wasn’t sure what to do with the foot or whom to tell. Because Ian didn’t know what to do, he panicked and carried the foot back to his apartment.
Several people noticed the creepy guy in apartment F-2017 carrying a foot around the parking lot. A woman who lived two doors down from Ian saw him. She had been getting into her car. She wrote the date and time and, “Guy from apartment F-2017 with foot,” in the notebook she carried around in her purse.
A man three doors down on the other side sketched Ian carrying the foot. He later filled in the sketch with watercolor, perhaps using a little too much cadmium red on the severed end of the foot.
Another man took out his cell phone and made a movie of Ian carrying the foot. He uploaded the video to YouTube where it became the fourth most watched video of all time. It showed Ian carrying his bloody mail in one hand and a severed foot in the other. Ian’s expression showed embarrassment, and his cheeks were red. It was a month before Halloween, so most people who saw the video thought Halloween had come early to Evergreen Pointe Estates West, Ian’s apartment complex. Parents would show the YouTube video to their children to foster compliance and self-restraint. They wouldn’t mention to their kids that they thought it was likely a Halloween video. “If you don’t stop jumping on the couch, we’re going to send you to this place.” The video of Ian carrying a foot around the parking lot instilled a sense of discipline and composure in thousands of children that continues to this day.
Ian placed the foot on his kitchen counter and thought about his next course of action. He concluded he needed more time, so he decided that it would be best to freeze the foot until he could work out a plan. If the foot were in his freezer, he’d have time to think of what to do without the time pressure and stress caused by a body part that wasn’t preserved. That much Ian knew. He had watched enough TV to know that you can’t just put a foot on your kitchen counter while you sat in your easy chair and thought about what to do.
Ian initially wrapped the foot in aluminum foil and put the foot in the freezer, but something troubled Ian about his wrapping technique. It seemed embarrassing and showed a lack of pride, and, besides, it was useless against freezer burn (due to Ian’s miserliness toward using aluminum foil [unwillingly inherited from his father] and his basic lack of skill in wrapping items). Ian thought about the unfortunate person who had been killed—Ian was almost 100% certain that a severed foot indicated murder—and he wanted to make sure he accorded the victim the proper respect. And, in Ian’s mind, respect certainly meant avoiding freezer burn.
He decided to go to Safeway and buy some Ziploc freezer bags and put the foot in a bag and then into his freezer. He wrote FOOT and the date in the architectural script that he’d learned in trade school. Ziploc freezer bags with their two seals gave the foot and its owner back their dignity, Ian reasoned.
The next day there was a hand in Ian’s mailbox. He carried the hand back to his apartment and stored the hand in his freezer too.
The woman two doors down saw Ian with the hand and wrote the date and, “Now a hand,” in her notebook. The artist sketched Ian and the hand. The man with the cell phone was at work, so he wasn’t there to make a video of Ian carrying a hand around the parking lot. His previous YouTube video of Ian carrying the foot had edged up to third most popular video of all time. It had surpassed the previous third most popular video of all time: a cat wearing a toga and playing a harp. That video was called, “Shawn Plays a Harp.”
Ian’s neighbors had moved their personal hobby areas from elsewhere in their apartments to windows that faced the parking lot, so they could enjoy their hobbies while watching for Ian—they would know immediately when Ian was in the parking lot carrying around body parts. They would have front-row seats to Ian’s depravity, they reasoned.
Ian still couldn’t figure out what to do. He thought of calling the police, but he was afraid they’d think he’d had something to do with the crime because he seemed so weird and suspicious (which was one reason why Ian chose a career that allowed him to work at home away from people).
The police always seemed so dynamic and exciting to Ian. Ian knew he was neither dynamic nor exciting, so he wouldn’t be able to relate to them or even talk to them without shaking or feeling nauseated. Ian was always nervous and scared, but the thought of trying to talk to the police really pushed him to the edge of the nervousness envelope. Besides, they talked fast and knew a lot about human psychology—something Ian never learned or had any hope of ever learning.
Also, the police might figure out that Ian had done something, something that Ian didn’t even know. Maybe Ian was involved but was too embarrassed to admit it even to himself. He needed time to figure out whether he had murdered someone and, say, just forgot or blocked it out. He couldn’t remember killing anyone, but maybe that meant he really had killed someone after all. By merely not remembering killing anyone, Ian realized that he was probably guilty. All of his life, Ian was certain he’d done something wrong but couldn’t remember and was moments away from arrest.
The part that didn’t make sense to Ian was why would he put the body in his own mailbox so he’d find it later. That was the only reason he wasn’t 100% certain that he’d killed someone and not remembered. Ian then thought that he might have multiple personalities. He became certain that he had two (or more) personalities: an evil male personality that was killing people and cutting them up and a benevolent female personality was finding the pieces and feeling depressed and sad over that.
Ian got choked up as he thought about all of the horrible things his evil male personality probably had done all his life that Ian couldn’t remember. In reality, the worst thing Ian had done his entire life up to this point was using an old stamp on a birthday card he’d sent to his grandmother. (He neither paid attention to postal rate increases nor purchased forever stamps.) She had had to put three cents in the little brown envelope left by her letter carrier to make up for the shortfall. Ian regularly heard about that three cent deficit until the day his grandmother died. He never received any sort of thank you for the birthday card, though.
Ian tried to imagine what the person who had owned all of these body parts was like. He could picture some sensitive, gentle person just like him who liked reading and watching movies and the Internet. He pictured the person as sad—Ian always pictured people as sad—because his life wasn’t working out the way he’d hoped. Or maybe he had some chronic health problems or didn’t have any friends.
Ian noticed that the body parts always arrived after the mail. This meant that they were always sitting on top of his mail. He really hated that; the body parts always got blood on his mail. He knew he couldn’t just throw away mail with blood on it. He had to burn the mail. Ian hated burning bloody mail because his poorly designed apartment fireplace often didn’t draw properly, so his apartment would fill with smoke. (He even thought of burning the body parts, but that seemed too offensive to the honor and dignity of the victim.)
Ian couldn’t see his mailbox from his apartment because of a huge supporting pillar, and he thought of asking his neighbors whether they had seen anything suspicious. Ian immediately laughed and wondered if he was feeling OK because he’d never talked to his neighbors and could never even imagine talking to them. Whenever he encountered a neighbor, he would avert his eyes and move quickly—almost run—out of the area. Ian always felt anyone he encountered was smarter and better than him and deserved more happiness. He felt that if he hung around, he was somehow taking away from that person’s happiness and intelligence and even attractiveness. Besides, no one would believe his story. Ian was certain.
Ian wondered if he should buy a bigger mailbox so whoever was placing the body parts in his mailbox wouldn’t need to cut them up into such small pieces to fit them into Ian’s standard-size mailbox. Ian decided against that idea when he realized that the apartment building’s management would never go for a tenant-supplied mailbox. And that meant conflict, something Ian avoided. And Ian couldn’t imagine himself standing out in the sun sweating and feeling hot and trying to install a mailbox with people around: people would be coming up all the time to get their mail. Ian visualized hell as like that: he’d be a handyman and have to spend eternity installing his larger mailbox while people came up to get their mail, and he’d avert his eyes and feel nauseated and his hands would shake. Some people would say hi, and Ian would try to mumble hi.
Being a handyman must be one of the worst jobs in the universe, Ian thought. Ian would sometimes think about horrible jobs like handyman. If Ian found he was being too prideful or if he felt he needed to appreciate how lucky he was, Ian would think of these horrible jobs. Ian would think about receptionists who had to talk to people all day. Or doctors who would have to touch people or act interested in their problems. Or someone whose job was to help people in a busy supermarket. Or teachers who had stand in front of a roomful of kids and try to care whether anyone learned anything. Whenever Ian felt he was too full of himself, whenever Ian found himself lacking in humility, he would bring himself back down to earth by thinking about his all-time feared job: dentist, someone who kept his hands in others’ mouths all day.
There were too many hellish jobs out there, Ian decided. Ian shuddered.
Ian continued to place each body part into a freezer bag and label it with today’s date and Ian’s guess as to what the body part was—and sometimes it was pretty hard to tell. After all, Ian had never seen half of the body parts he’d seen in just the last few days. Over time an entire body was delivered piece-by-piece to his mailbox.
Ian had had to give up popsicles, one of his favorite treats, because the body started to take up his entire freezer. Ian wanted to tell someone that fact because he wanted some sort of validation. He pictured this sort of exchange happening:
Ian: I had to give up popsicles so I could put all of the body parts into my freezer.
Some Person: Wow. Good job. You’re a good person, Ian. No one else knows, but I know. As long as I know you’re a good person, that’s all that matters.
Soon after he gave up popsicles, he realized he’d have to buy a new freezer to contain the body parts. Ian ordered it online so he wouldn’t have to interact with any humans.
He had the delivery service put the freezer in his living room. Ian felt nervous and inferior around the delivery men because they were muscular and very attractive and could move the freezer around as if it weighed nothing.
Ian moved all of the body parts to the big freezer in his living room. This would let him resume putting popsicles in the kitchen freezer. Ian felt proud that he was able to solve another one of life’s problems using online ordering.
Eventually the police noticed bloodstains on and in Ian’s mailbox when they were responding to a neighbor’s calls about mail theft. The pack of dogs hanging around the mailboxes also piqued the police officers’ interest. Several of the tenants had had the dogs snarl at them.
The police asked neighbors if they’d seen anything suspicious. One neighbor after another said he or she had seen Ian carry body parts into his apartment, but each had been afraid to get involved or thought it was his or her imagination or was afraid of Ian since he seemed sort of creepy and thus dangerous. After all, they had all seen similar stories on TV that didn’t turn out well for any of the parties involved.
By this time, the artist three doors down had created a whole series of high-quality sketches of Ian carrying around body parts in the parking lot. In that short period, it was obvious that there was quite a progression in the artist’s technical skill, of which the artist could be justifiably proud.
One sketch showed Ian carrying a foot, another depicted some internal organ—helpfully labeled as Liver(?) by the artist. Another sketch showed Ian with a hand. It was quite a ghoulish record of Ian’s suspicious behavior.
The man later self-published the sketches in a book called Suburban Nightmares: Sketches from the Center of Hell. Even though people thought the title’s hyperbole was silly, and it made them laugh, the book ended up being one of CreateSpace’s self-publishing stellar performers. The artist chose that title merely to express his displeasure in dealing with the management company that managed his apartment building and the attitude problem of the aforementioned company rather than any dissatisfaction with suburban living, which he found, in fact, quite pleasurable.
“These [sketches] are really good,” the detective in charge said. “Too bad you didn’t take up art at an earlier age.”
“Yes, one of life’s regrets,” the artist said.
The artist gave a free copy of Suburban Nightmares to the police, and they used the book to obtain a search warrant for Ian’s apartment. The judge who issued the search warrant was so taken by the book’s depiction of the gritty realism of crime and its effects that she gave copies of Suburban Nightmares to her friends and family as gifts at Christmas. She would show her friends the drawing of Ian carrying the brain (left hemisphere) on page 14 and say, “Doesn’t this just symbolize the decline and fall of western civilization like nothing else? You’ve got some sicko out in the suburbs, in one of those godawful suburban apartment complexes carrying around a brain. I can’t believe it.”
In Ian’s living room freezer the police found a body carefully labeled and bagged. They couldn’t understand why the bags’ handwritten dates encompassed a large time span, but they eventually just attributed that to some unidentified satanic ritual (USR).
Ian told an unbelievable story of finding the body parts in his mailbox, which no one believed because it was so ridiculous. It was especially unbelievable because his letter carrier said he never saw anything, and he was so charming and charismatic and outgoing and at one time had had a wife and even possibly a child—he wasn’t an introvert like Ian. So the police never fully investigated the bloodstains on Ian’s mailbox. It didn’t make any sense for someone to receive body parts in his mailbox, after all.
No one recognized the letter carrier as Frank Thornton, the disgraced Congressional lobbyist.
Frank Thornton had been arrested years earlier and served time in prison for influence peddling in Congress. He had been involved in the largest political scandal in the history of the United States. His criminal testimony had brought down 251 representatives and 58 senators, among others. The majority of both houses of Congress were slated to spend time in prison thanks to Frank Thornton’s testimony.
For Frank Thornton’s release from prison, the court had found him a place to live at a halfway house and a job at the post office. It was during this time that Frank started killing the people who testified against him or just somehow pissed him off.
The letter carrier targeted certain individuals to take the fall for his murders. He also liked screwing with people. He would pick out fall guys by studying the mail they received. He looked for indicators, as he liked to call them. For instance, if the person received a programming magazine like Dr. Dobb’s Journal, he would be a good target to take the fall. (The mailman was particularly saddened when he found out later that Dr. Dobb’s Journal effectively ceased publication of the magazine in 2009. Frank Thornton had found it to be such a powerful indicator.)
Not all computer magazines, though, indicated a possible target. Receiving Macworld wasn’t a good indicator, for instance, but PC World was. Wired Magazine was a good indicator. Any magazine that involved iPhones or, later, iPads wasn’t a good indicator. Nor were beginning PC user magazines. Linux magazines and Android magazines, on the other hand, were good indicators.
Frank Thornton was particularly interested in signs the magazine recipient was struggling with some sort of social anxiety or depression or introversion. A subscription to Psychology Today along with a subscription to a computer magazine would bring Frank much joy (in the days when joy was hard to find for Frank Thornton). It’s like winning the lottery, he’d think. On top of that, if the recipient had an unsecured mailbox—on the off chance that the police would fully investigate the mailbox (they never did)—the body parts could have been placed by anyone, not just the mailman.
He also knew these types of people wouldn’t report the body parts to anyone. He knew they were afraid of the police. He knew they were basically shut-ins. He knew they would take the blame for something they hadn’t done. Frank knew the depth of their shame and guilt was breathtaking and thus open to massive exploitation.
Sometimes Frank would open medical billing statements. He had a database of all of the therapists treating sexual problems. He collected additional information from the sheriff’s sexual predator database on the Internet. Although Frank’s murders had no sexual component, he knew how to make them seem like sex crimes, which would cause the public and police to focus on any sexual predator who’d been living in the area. Frank Thornton learned a simple rule of thumb in prison: make any crime seem like a sexual crime. That would throw suspicion onto any known sex offenders living in the area. That’s why Frank would mutilate the sexual organs of his victims. He got no thrill out of the mutilation, after all. He found that sort of thing sick.
Frank felt some uncertainty about using Ian as a fall guy. As far as Frank could tell, Ian wasn’t being treated for sexual problems by a therapist and wasn’t a released sexual criminal, but Frank was having trouble finding an ideal target and decided to just wing it with Ian. Ian did have some points in his favor: he received Wired magazine and was a long-time subscriber to Psychology Today. And he had an unsecured mailbox: Ian lived in an apartment building that featured rows of unlocked, free-standing mailboxes, so anyone could place body parts in his mailbox.
Frank might not have felt such a need to seek revenge if he’d been able to gauge the mood of the American people over how he’d decimated Congress with his testimony. He never knew the gratitude of the American people for sending so many members of Congress to prison. He might have not gotten so angry and killed so many people if he could have just experienced the warmth and deep affection Americans expressed toward him in blogs, Facebook walls, tweets, and YouTube videos.
One of the reasons that Frank Thornton never experienced any of the goodwill the American people felt toward him was because members of the media were angry that so many of their corrupt friends were in prison that they avoided reporting about Frank or his fans. They reported dire warnings that the country was “adrift” and “rudderless” without their congressional friends. According to them, the nation had never been in such a “crisis.” Americans were told to “prepare emergency survival kits” and to “stock up on bottled water” because of the congressional prison sentences.
Another reason Frank never found out about the mood of the country was because he was denied access to the Internet. If the court had allowed Frank access to the Internet during his parole, he might have seen the Frank Thornton is a Hero group on Facebook with 12.4 million members, for instance. He might have seen the group, I Want to Have Frank Thorton’s Baby, with 16.7 million members. He might have found the #FrankThornton hashtag on Twitter with 2 million mostly favorable tweets per week. There were at least one hundred new videos praising Frank Thornton posted to YouTube every month. But the court had decided to deny Frank Thornton access to the Internet because the court didn’t know what the Internet was and thus feared it.
(Unfortunately, the Facebook group, I Want to Have Frank Thorton’s Baby, was shut down almost immediately because a small company in Texas sued Facebook for violating its software patent. The company said it owned a patent on social networking groups that offered to have a specified person’s baby. The title of the patent was, “A Social Networking System and Embodiment for Brokering Surrogacy Services.”)
In the end, Ian was put away. Ian hadn’t killed anyone. He had just found body parts in his mailbox. He never learned in school what to do if he found body parts in his mailbox, so he had to improvise.
Two years before Ian’s trial, some economists developed something they called the Worthwhile Score. It was used to rate an individual’s importance to society, his position in the hierarchy, his stack ranking. The score was comprised of various factors: number of Facebook friends, whether married, number of children living at home, net worth, whether employed in the financial industry, credit score, whether extroverted, whether a corporate executive, etc. Ian scored in the lowest quintile range of the Worthwhile Score. (Several of the economists who created Worthwhile Score would jokingly refer to someone with Ian’s result as in the subhuman range.) Ian scored that low because he had no friends on Facebook (other than someone in Russia who had hoped to con Ian into laundering money). Ian also had no kids, no spouse, no money, didn’t work in the financial industry, and wasn’t a corporate executive. Ian’s low Worthwhile Score afforded him the opportunity to be executed on the new Death Row Fast-Track Program offered by the recently privatized state and federal prison systems: After Ian spent less than an hour on death row, he was executed.
The victim’s family felt relieved and safe once again.
Ian’s trial pushed sales of the book, Suburban Nightmares, to the self-publishing stratosphere and allowed its author to pursue his art full-time. He could finally quit being a paralegal, a job he detested.
And Frank Thornton continued murdering and delivering bodies to spooky loner types. Altogether there were six creepy loner types who had been executed before Frank judged it too risky to continue and moved on to another method of disposing of bodies.
The remaining members of Congress (those who hadn’t gone to prison) passed a law that allowed any of the disgraced representatives and senators to return to their seats in Congress, no questions asked. And the previous status quo was restored when the President pardoned all of the congressional criminals. “This long national nightmare is over,” the President proclaimed during a nationally televised address. (Even though the longest any member of Congress had been in prison had been less than a week.) The old Congress was thus reconstituted. Their first order of business was to pass a 500% congressional pay raise and slash the National Park Service budget. Their reasoning was simple: the National Park Service was the most visible agency to many Americans because it operated many of the nation’s most beloved and visited park sites and cutting its budget would show the proles what Congress thought of them. After all, most members of Congress had spent a few hours in prison; someone needed to pay for such a travesty of justice.
(To express their contempt for the National Park Service, a number of senators and congressmen burned Smokey the Bear in effigy on the National Mall in Washington, DC. They didn’t realize that Smokey the Bear wasn’t connected with the National Park Service but instead was a mascot of the United States Forest Service, part of the Department of Agriculture. The National Park Service was part of the Department of the Interior, a whole different department. When an onlooker pointed out this fact to the senators and congressmen, they first had him arrested for disrespecting a member of Congress, and then they resolved to slash the budget of the United States Forest Service, which they did. They also passed a law requiring all rights to Smokey the Bear be transferred to a private company owned by two of the senators. The company then used Smokey’s likeness to promote a chain of combination barbecue chicken restaurants and topless car washes.)
Meanwhile, the President continued his address, “We shall seek out this terrorist, Frank Thornton, who so damaged our Republic and threatened all of our liberties with his reckless and malevolent testimony. No stone shall be left unturned. No dark corner shall be left unexamined. No burden shall be too great to protect this sacred Republic. We shall stop this enemy and all enemies of the United States of America.”
And so fifteen minutes later—only because Frank’s manager at the post office had been watching the President’s speech on TV—did Frank Thornton lose his job at the post office and was then arrested. It had been the quickest terrorist apprehension in US history.
At the same time, Facebook, Twitter, many ISPs, and various blogs received a flurry of ████████ ████████ letters requesting the ███████ of anyone who had posted anything about Frank Thornton. Those who had posted anything had their names added immediately to ████████████ and all of their Internet activity was retained by the government for use in possible future indictments—all of their Internet communications were intercepted by the ███ without warrant and stored in a new facility in ████. The ███ targeted the same people with ████████████ warrants where the █████ would break into the subjects’ homes without detection and copy any information from computers and plant cameras and listening devices.
The ████████████ warrants were printed on the █████ high-speed laser printers and robo-signed by the mortgage and banking industry. Contractors, posing as magistrates, would sign a stack of warrants without reading a single one. The signature would attest that they were legally authorized and had found the contents of the warrant “to be true and accurate to the best of my knowledge.” They would sit in front of their TVs and sign warrants. They would sign stacks of them on airplanes or while stuck in meetings or in traffic.
One heartwarming story told of a contractor who had his entire family signing warrants. The youngest, Donnie, at fifteen, could almost match the rest of the family in number of warrants signed per hour. The family was so enchanted by little Donnie’s signing ability they nicknamed him Signbot. The family had been drifting apart for years, and no one would have suspected that committing felonies by fraudulently signing warrants, mortgage documents, and other official paperwork would reunite the family. But it had. They even told their story in a work that made self-publishing history by the speed with which it reached the top of the memoir best sellers list. People all over were encouraged by this self-publishing success story and started self-publishing a whole host of unsavory memoirs that alternately frightened and titillated the reading public.
The mortgage and banking industry experienced a surge in profitability because of the increased demand for its robo-signing services. They managed to grow this new business into a $20-billion-a-year sector. They outsourced work all over the world.
They called their operation FDC (for Fraudulent Document Creation) and even produced glossy, high-quality brochures for investors. “Fraudulent Document Creation (FDC) is this decade’s new high-growth business. It has produced long-term, sustainable growth and unheard-of returns for investors,” one brochure proclaimed. (Those in the financial industry no longer felt any need to hide behind euphemisms after so many years of government inaction over their past crimes. They called fraud fraud, which most Americans found refreshing.)
Investors could not determine whether glossy brochures that promoted a fraudulent business were themselves fraudulent. And if the brochures were fraudulent, what did that mean? The business was already fraudulent, after all. In the end, Investors were excited by the prospect of investing in business that so blatantly flouted the law that they invested more money than they probably normally would have. “The more crooked and fraudulent a business seems, the more you should invest in it” became a new rule of thumb in the investment community.
Congress responded by lowering the tax rate on investment income derived from fraudulent businesses to 0.0875%. Fraudulent businesses just needed proper certification from the IRS for investors to enjoy the lower tax rate. However, most of the paperwork submitted to the IRS by fraudulent businesses turned out to be fraudulent, and every investment soon offered investors the low 0.0875% tax rate. To make up for the shortfall in tax receipts, Congress lowered the marginal income tax rate on income above $500,000 a year to 1.1%.
The fraudulent business industry thus experienced a golden age unparalleled in history. Sadly, the bubble burst and the golden age was followed by an economic collapse of size and scope that dwarfed the Great Depression, the Great Recession, the Panic of 1797, the Depression of 1807, the 1815–1821 Depression, the Long Depression, and all other economic downturns since the dawn of the United States combined.
And, ultimately, Frank Thornton was sent to Guantánamo Bay as an enemy combatant. He was never tried or even charged. He was just held. He died there some 30 years later, in the spring of 2047.