The Con 

By Ahmed A. Khan 

THE CON Detective Sergeant Jim Healy had often been caught reading comic books on duty, had been reprimanded, made fun of, warned. And all to no effect. Was it then a wonder that he visited a comics convention on the day that he was off duty? The first things that Jim Healy encountered as he entered the convention hall were the color and the sound. There was color everywhere – in the displays, in the dresses that people wore, and even the hair-do of people. As was usual for a comics convention, major part of the crowd consisted of teenagers dressed in outlandish outfits, quite a few of them sporting hair done in strange colors and stranger shapes. At twenty three, with crew-cut hair and dressed in quite ordinary jeans and jacket, Jim soon started to feel out of place. And the sound. Oh yes, the sound! The sound of haggling over prices, the sound of kids arguing over who was better, Batman or Spiderman, the sound of a tape playing the soundtrack of the latest Star Wars movie. It was the last day of the convention. The convention was a success, as indicated by the number of stalls displaying and selling comics, and by the crowds that milled in the convention hall. A number of extremely valuable comics were on display, therefore adequate measures of security had been taken. There was a guard at the door and there was at least one guard near each cabinet that displayed really valuable comics. Close circuit video camera over the single door of the hall whirred softly, monitoring the goings-on. The hall was divided into two sections: the artists’ alley and the dealers’ area. To one side of the hall was a stage where an orchestra had been playing some jazz music and had just stopped. Jim Healy wandered about in hall, staring agog at the mouth-watering displays. Here was the issue of the Detective Comics in which Batman was introduced. There was the first issue of the X-Men. "Wow! Oh, wow!" Jim kept mumbling at varied intervals. He came to an area allocated to vendors selling toys, games and cards. He passed this area with hardly a glance. Not his kettle of fish. He moved to the artists’ alley. It was crowded. And no wonder, given the artwork samples on display! There was an over-abundance of nudity and violence. Jim didn’t stay there long. Back in the dealers’ area, Jim resumed his wandering. At one booth, he stopped and stared. The first thing he noticed was a security guard. The next thing he saw was a glass display cabinet, empty but for a solitary comic. But what a comic! It was Action #1, the comic where Superman made his first appearance. The comic was for sale. Jim looked at the price tag. It read "$90,000". Jim whistled softly and after much effort, managed to drag his eyes to the other comics at the stall. Once again his eyes were arrested as he stared at X-Men #94, the only X-Men comic that was missing from his collection. It was priced at $100. Jim took out his wallet and riffled through it. All he had in there totaled just a little under $80. Jim shook his head sadly, then pushed the wallet back in his pocket. And only then did Jim notice the owner of the stall. It was a beautiful girl, and she was looking at Jim amusedly. Jim blushed and was about to move away from the stall when there was a loud noise quite close to him, and suddenly he found himself submerged in smoke. The loud noise was followed by the tinkle of glass breaking, which was in turn followed by a shrill, panicky scream of the girl at the stall. Further small and loud cries of surprise, consternation, even panic continued to reached his ears. "A smoke bomb," Jim guessed rightly. It took a couple of minutes for the smoke to thin down enough for Jim to be able to perceive his surroundings. He saw that people had started running to the door, but the guard at the door, with admirable presence of mind, had locked the door close. As soon as the smoke subsided, the girl at the stall screamed once again. Jim turned to find her staring in shock at a display cabinet that lay shattered and empty. Action #1 had been stolen. The security man who was guarding the cabinet also looked panic stricken, but recovered fast. He immediately picked up his cellular phone and called the police. The organizers immediately had the door of the hall closed. An announcement was flashed over the speakers: "Ladies and Gentlemen! There has been a theft in the hall. An extremely valuable comic has been stolen. The police have been called. Till the police arrive, you are requested to remain in the hall. We regret this inconvenience." The police arrived, led by Inspector Gomez. Jim came forward and greeted him. "Aha! Jim!" Inspector Gomez exclaimed. "I should have known." "Of course," said Jim matter-of-factly. "Of course," echoed the inspector. "So what's going on here?" "A theft." "Of what?" "A comic book." "What!" "Yes." "All this hullabaloo for a single stupid comic book?" "This comic book was priced at $90,000." Inspector whistled. "No joke?" he asked in an awed voice. "No joke." "Hoo boy!" Then came the usual investigation procedures. The inspector looked around. "Only one door," observed Gomez. "I take it that no one has been allowed to leave the hall since the theft was discovered?" he asked Jim. "That's right." "Then it should not be difficult to find the comic." "You know what I think?" the girl, whose comic it was, said darkly. "I think it was this man here who took the comic," she said, pointed to Jim. "What?" Jim jumped. Inspector Gomez snickered. "I wouldn't put it past him," he declared. "Alright, search me." "Hey, I was joking," Gomez said. "Search me." He was searched and of course the comic was not found on him. A body search of all the people at the convention - men, women and children – was clearly indicated. A policewoman would be needed to body search the fair sex. He phoned for one, and by the time she arrived, he had the policemen with him search the whole hall for the missing comic. While all this was going on Jim was deep in thought. He was thinking about the theft. It was all pre-planned. That was evident from the smoke bomb. The thief must have thought everything out quite well. He or she would realize that as soon as the theft became known, the hall door would be closed and people would not be let out without being searched. In such circumstances, how did the thief plan to sneak the comic out of the hall? After about ten minutes, one of the policemen came to Gomez. He had found a comic in the men’s washrooms, but it was not the stolen one. It was a Judge Dredd comic and it was without its cover. Jim looked at the comic and suddenly a bulb seemed to light up over his head, the way it is sometimes shown in comics. He quickly turned to one of the organizers of the convention and said, "Do you have any other copy of this Judge Dredd comic around? I want to know what the cover looked like." The man said he could find one, and he did. Jim took the comic from him and looked for a long time at the cover. Just then, the policewoman arrived. Gomez then stationed one policeman and the policewoman at the door, with the instructions to let the people out one by one, but only after thoroughly searching them and their belongings. Jim stationed himself at the door, the Judge Dredd comic in his hand. One by one the people began leaving the hall after being searched. About ten minutes passed when a person – a young boy of thirteen or fourteen, wearing a Batman mask and cape – was found to be in possession of a Judge Dredd comic with the same cover as the one held by Jim. Jim motioned him to stand aside. About an hour went by. All the people in the hall were let out except for four persons in whose possession was found the particular Judge Dredd comic. Jim looked at the bunch. Their faces reflected anxiety to varying degrees. Other than the teenage boy, there was a teenage girl, an old gentleman in his sixties, and a young man about Jim's age. This young man was the conductor of the orchestra that had been playing in the hall. Jim knew this by the fact that he was dressed in tux and was carrying a baton in one hand. His other hand held a bag of comics. Jim went to the teenage boy and asked to look at his Judge Dredd comic. The boy handed it over to him, looking apprehensive. Jim opened it, looked at the inside and handed it back to the boy. He repeated the action with the teenage girl. Then he moved to the young conductor. "May I have a look at your Judge Dredd comic?" "Why should I?" the man said. Jim looked up surprised. "I beg your pardon." "Come on, man! What's going on here? The comic that was stolen was not a Judge Dredd one, was it? Then what's all this about?" "How do you know it was not a Judge Dredd comic that was stolen?" "Come off it. No Judge Dredd comic in the world is valuable enough to rate this kind of fuss." "Whatever. But I would still like to see your Judge Dredd comic." "And I will not show it to you." Suddenly Jim lunged, caught the man by his wrist and pulled the bag of comics from him. The man tried to snatch it out of Jim's hands but he was restrained by a policeman. Jim opened the bag and pulled out the Judge Dredd comic. By now, the attention of almost all the people in the hall had become focused on Jim and the conductor. There was a strangled sound from the conductor and Jim opened the comic. There was a gasp from a few people who were close enough to Jim to peer over or around him at the opened comic. Jim closed the comic and went to the comic stand girl. "Here is your stolen comic." "What nonsense!" the girl said. "The stolen comic was Action and not this worthless Judge Dredd stuff." "Open it." The girl looked at Jim uncomprehendingly, then opened the comic and immediately gave a cry. "This is it! This is it!." "What? What?" Gomez said. "This is the missing comic." "But I think you said that it was Action or some such comic, not Judge Dredd." "No, the cover is Judge Dredd but the comic inside is Action." Gomez stared uncomprehendingly at her, then turned to Jim. "Explain," he said. "Do you have a pipe upon you?" "What?" "I want to put a pipe in my mouth and say 'Elementary'." "Stop talking nonsense and explain." "It's really very simple," he began. "When this man planned to steal the comic he faced two problems. One was to acquire the comic, which was solved simply by exploding a smoke bomb near the stall where the Action comic was on sale. The second problem was to get the comic out of the hall. To solve this problem, here is what he did. Immediately after grabbing the comic, he made his way to the washrooms. Here, he selected one comic from a few he had bought. This comic was the Judge Dredd one. He tore off its cover, retained the cover and threw away the comic itself. He then removed the cover of the Action comic, put the Judge Dredd cover on the Action comic, and there you are." There was a gasp of shock from the girl and some of the on-lookers. Oh, the horror! Imagine removing the cover of the first Super Man comic! Sacrilege. Once they overcame their shock, one of the on-lookers managed to ask a question. "But what did he do with the cover of the Action comic?" For answer, Jim went for the only place that the conductor could have hid the cover without it being discovered during the body search. He took the baton from the limp hands of the conductor and began prying at it. The baton came away in two pieces, and all rolled up into a thin cylinder, there was the cover of the famous comic. There were more gasps from the audience. "As you see, the crime was pre-planned. He came prepared with a specially constructed baton to hide the cover in. Once sneaked out, the comic could be put together," Jim continued his exposition. "Of course it would not be in mint and condition and so the value would go down by about 50% I guess. But you know what? Fifty percent of $90,000 is $45,000." Reverently, the girl took the cover from Jim's hand. There were tears in her eyes as she unfolded it. One of the on-lookers even moaned with misery. After a while, when a semblance of calm was restored in the hall, Jim turned to Gomez. "The equation is now balanced," he said. "What do you mean?" asked Gomez. "I read comics on duty and I solve crimes off duty." The girl came up to Jim, smiling shyly. "I ... I am sorry that I accused you so wrongly," she said. "It's alright," Jim said nonchalantly. "I will do anything to make up for it." There was enough honey in her voice to make Jim euphoric. "Really?" She lowered her eyes and nodded coyly. Jim looked at the girl carefully, and his brows knitted up in deep thought. Coming to a decision, he spoke. "Then will you reduce the price of your X-Men #94 to about $70 for me?" he asked brightly.


Ahmed Khan is a computer consultant and a part-time freelance writer. His works (both fiction and non-fiction) have appeared in magazines like Science Today, Millennium SF, Murderous Intent, Realms, and webzines like AlienQ, Anotherealm, Jackhammer, etc.

He is originally from India, currently settled in Canada

Contact Ahmed

December 7, 2000
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