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Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Life + Arts

The case of the crooked copycat, part 1: Crooked beginnings

Exhibit A: The copycat’s shadowy calling card | The Cougar

I suppose introductions are in order. 

I’d tell you my name, but you already know that. Who I am doesn’t matter nearly as much as what I do, anyway. Put simply, I solve problems — and this publication has a big one

It all started late one night when I was making my way across campus. I’d had a few, though not nearly enough to dull the drum beat of yesterday’s hangover. The air hung thick and heavy, pierced only by the ringing silence of a quiet summer night. Call it fate or just bad luck, but out of the corner of my eye, I caught the faintest glimpse of moonlight reflecting off a bright red sticker. 

“Not my problem,” I thought to myself, knowing full well that I was about to make it mine. 

Drawn by some irresistible urge to stick my nose where it’s likely to get cut off, I stumbled over to do just that. Getting a closer look at the sticker didn’t reveal much. A simple, Cougar-red background with a reversed “C” at its center. 

A lot of people think being a detective is all about the badge and the gun, but like most things, the important part usually comes down to you and your relationship with your gut. And let’s just say, something about that sticker hit mine like a semi hitting a Smart Car. 

“Not my problem,” I said, as if saying it aloud would somehow make it more true. 

Beads of sweat began to drip down my brow as the calming promise of a dirty mattress and a couple shots of cheap whiskey morphed into an aching need. I’d deal with it in the morning, if at all. 

But the morning didn’t come, at least not for me. Night simply bled into daytime as the haunting image of that inverted “C” danced across my vision, taunting me. I rolled out of bed, no more rested than when I lay down but driven by the singular purpose of putting my mind at ease. 

I stumbled out into the punishing daylight of the late morning, or maybe early afternoon — I wasn’t entirely sure which. It had rained at some point in the night, and the image of my reflection in the puddles told a story of a man in over his head. Dark circles surrounded my eyes and a generous layer of uneven stubble masked my features. 

Pushing my way through crowds of students on their way to class, I made my way back to the spot where I’d seen the sticker just hours before. 

But it wasn’t there. 

An initial wave of frustrated bewilderment soon gave way to a feeling of relief. Perhaps it had all been a dream, perhaps I had simply hallucinated — it wouldn’t be the first time. Either way, I felt comfortable enough in the excuses I was telling myself that I saw the real possibility of uninterrupted sleep in my near future. 

I grabbed a copy of the campus paper and made my way back home. A little reading, some more whiskey — I’d be blissfully asleep within the hour. 

Or so I’d thought.  

The first thing I noticed was the open door leading to my studio apartment. Even at my worst, I always made sure to lock up whenever I left. Tensing for a fight, I eased the door open and stepped into the dimly lit room. 

It had been ransacked. Papers, old case files, drawers, cupboards; just about everything had been upturned and scattered. The message was clear, whoever did this wanted me to know they were here. 

It became even more clear when I turned to face my front door and saw that same red sticker stuck to the entrance. Underneath it someone had carved the word “crooked” with what I can only assume was a pocket knife. 

Then it all clicked. I stared down at the campus paper still in my hands and saw the same symbol, but facing the correct way. I fished a pen out from under a pile of my scattered personal effects and opened a fresh case file. In thick black ink I scratched a title onto the cover. 

“The case of the crooked copycat.”

If you or someone you know has any information pertaining to the identity of the individual behind The Crooked Cougar, please contact CRIME STOPPERS at 713-743-5362.

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