Martha Quimble and the Cranshaw Investment Plan
When the speaker announced an intermission for coffee and cookies, Martha Quimble muttered, "It's about time." Her knee had begun to bother her--the result of sitting on the hard, metal chairs of the power company's conference room. She wondered whether the company executives ever met in the room or if it was only used for torturing the public.
As she stood, waiting for her legs to confirm that they were still working, Marvin Strong spotted her and came over. "Hi, Martha! Isn't this speaker marvelous? The Cranshaw Investment Plan certainly sounds like a good deal. Even Betty agrees, and she usually drags her heels about anything but savings accounts and bonds."
Martha thought it was pretty smart of Betty to "usually drag her heels" about a company that arrives out of the clear, blue sky, as Cranshaw Investment had. Martha hadn't seen anything definitely suspicious. Maybe she was too old-fashioned. However, as she battled her way to the refreshments--through a weird mix of senior citizen invitees and Cranshaw's horde of strong young male assistants--she remembered the saying, "There's no such thing as a free lunch."
Martha took two oatmeal cookies and a cup of coffee. She turned and saw Arthur Goldfield.
"Hello, Arthur. I didn't know you were back from New York. Did you get anything special at the stamp auction? Or were you outbid every time?" After his last auction Arthur had told repeatedly of how badly he'd been outbid.
"Not this time," Arthur said, "In fact I got some real bargains. Thank goodness, because that left me with enough cash to bid on the early eagle and win. I got that prize, but it wasn't a bargain."
Grace Dimple came over to them. "You two will have to come see the chest of drawers I got from my aunt's estate. It's exactly like one I saw on that antique show on television, so it's worth at least $25,000. Not that I'd even think of selling it."
James LeRoy, the coin collector joined the threesome, but, just then, the Cranshaw Company organizer called them back together to listen to some more hype from their speaker. Lucky interruption, Martha thought, because James always talked on endlessly about his coins. Martha wondered why Arthur could make stamps sound interesting, yet even though the two kinds of collecting were similar, James could not do the same for coins.
The speaker finished his pitch with a reminder of the free dinner and dance for that evening. He emphasized that, should they decide to invest in the Cranshaw Investment Plan, they should be sure to bring their checkbooks. He re-emphasized that only checks dated four days in the future would be accepted, "Because if anybody has second thoughts, they need to have time to stop payment on the check." He added that he didn't really expect this, and brought a chuckle as he promised good old "hold-your-partner" dance music.
As Martha was leaving, Jane Emery caught up with her, "Martha, I am surprised to see you here--the way you always warn everybody about dealing with strangers. But I don't think even you can find anything wrong with this crowd. They won't even take our money tonight. They are really, really trying to protect us seniors. It's a good plan, too. Thanks to it I won't have to worry about the lawyers stealing my estate from my kids."
Martha admitted that she couldn't see anything wrong. Yet, she told herself, the rule is, if it sounds too good to be true, it is too good to be true. So there's a catch. What would it turn out to be?
She reviewed the crowd. They were senior citizens her age and older--and most were far better off financially than she was. They had enough money, for example, to permit them to collect coins and stamps. Two of them had houses filled with valuable antiques, and one restored old cars for a hobby. As for her, she'd been asked to attend not by the Cranshaw Company representatives, but by her nephew, a police detective. She thought again of the outward signs of wealth most of the people attending showed. "Conspicuous consumption," she'd heard it called.
Martha drove home to change for the formal dinner and dance. Before leaving the house, she called her nephew. "Wayne, I can't imagine that there isn't a catch, but I certainly can't spot it."
Wayne pressed for details and she recited all she could remember. "Take Jenny Adams, for example. I'm not sure Jenny still has money, because the rumor is that she actually had to sell some of her family's fine silver--and that collection is all genuine silver, not plate.
"Then there's Mr. Knack's collection of gold objects--mostly very old coins--probably outdoes Jenny's silver, although I wonder whether reports of the size of his collection might be exaggerated. He keeps it in his home. For a man of his intelligence, that seems unreasonably casual.
"The Smiths own horses and horse tack, but, so far as I know, they aren't exactly collectors. But they have plenty of money.
"I'm not sure about the Brownells--I only know them to speak to, but I'm pretty sure they're pretty darned rich.
"I've dug into some financial magazines about The Cranshaw Investment Plan, but I didn't spot anything definitely bad in their ads. It's not as if they're selling swampland or any such thing. But still I think they're up to something. I just wonder what it could be."
Wayne said, "Maybe we're just too suspicious. I can't run them in just because I'm worried about them. I hope you'll go to their dinner, and, if you don't mind, just keep your eyes open. The minute you spot anything, call me. I'll be home all evening."
At the door, the speaker greeted Martha and admired her dress as he took her coat and hung it up. The personal attention surprised Martha but she had no time to say so: he had already gone on to the next people entering. Martha went into the dining room and joined a table where several of her friends were already seated. Martha was sipping a chardonnay. She looked around the room as the speaker came in and welcomed them with a joke that might have been funnier if Martha hadn't heard it so many times before. Soon everyone was enjoying the salad.
"Wait just a second," Martha said to herself, "Where are all the young men who assisted him this afternoon?" There had been plenty of them then, but tonight she could spot only the speaker himself. Surely that was the answer to the riddle!
Martha excused herself and headed for the ladies room. The speaker came immediately to her side--before she even left the dining hall. "Madam, are you well? Surely you are not leaving us?"
Martha replied that she was only off to the ladies room. She tried to blush becomingly, and managed it by visualizing the man as if standing in his underwear. That may or may not have helped: he watched her pass by the public phone and turn in at the ladies room door.
Inside, Martha used her cell phone to call her nephew. She gave him as many names as she had time for and suggested the force watch for young men unloading items from those people's houses. By the end of the evening, all but one "assistant" had been caught--red-handed. An officer escorted the speaker out of the ballroom just as the orchestra began a waltz. He--and the rest of the crew--proved to have no connection with the real Cranshaw fund at all.
Nobody stopped the band, and Martha stayed for the dance. "That's the one benefit I can get from those people, and I may as well enjoy it," she said.