Friday, December 29, 2023

Did You Overlook These?

I'm taking a final look at crime fiction in 2023. Here are a handful of titles that deserve your attention. Read quickly -- the 2024s are on their way.

Deborah J. Ledford
Thomas & Mercer

[from the publisher]
From award-winning author Deborah J Ledford comes a thrilling new series featuring a Native American sheriff’s deputy who risks it all to find a friend who’s gone missing.

After four women disappear from the Taos Pueblo reservation, Deputy Eva “Lightning Dance” Duran dives into the case. For her, it’s personal. Among the missing is her best friend, Paloma, a heroin addict who left behind an eighteen-year-old son.

Eva senses a lack of interest from the department as she embarks on the investigation. But their reluctance only fuels her fire. Eva teams up with tribal police officer and longtime friend Cruz “Wolf Song” Romero to tackle a mystery that could both ruin her reputation and threaten her standing in the tribe.

And when the missing women start turning up dead, Eva uncovers clues that take her deeper into the reservation’s protected secrets. As Eva races to find Paloma before it’s too late, she will face several tests of loyalty―to her friend, her culture, and her tribe.

Deborah J. Ledford is the award-winning author of the Eva "Lightning Dance" Duran suspense thrillers. These Native American novels of suspense are set in Northern New Mexico and on the Taos Pueblo Reservation.

Part Eastern Band Cherokee, Deborah spent her summers growing up in the Great Smoky Mountains region of North Carolina, where her Smoky Mountain Inquest novels are set.

Isabella Maldonado
Thomas & Mercer

[from the publisher]
FBI agent and former military codebreaker Daniela “Dani” Vega witnesses a murder on a Manhattan sidewalk. The victim is chief of staff for a powerful New York senator. The assassin turned informant is Gustavo Toro. His code: hit the target and don’t ask questions. When Dani suspects a complex conspiracy, the only way to take down the mastermind is from the inside, forcing her to partner with Toro. Together they must infiltrate the inner circle at a remote facility.

Except it’s a trap. For all of them.

Locked in a subterranean labyrinth and held captive by an unseen host, Dani, Toro, and others must fight for their lives. Now Dani must stay undercover, unravel a bizarre conspiracy, and survive lethal puzzles. But will Toro be friend or foe? Because in this killer’s game, everything is real: the paranoia, the desperation, and the body count. And only one person can make it out alive.

E. A. Aymar
Thomas & Mercer

[from the publisher]
The murder of jazz musician and social activist Markus Peña doesn’t come as a surprise to his estranged sisters. Melinda and Emily Peña know their controversial brother had enemies. After all, even they hadn’t spoken to Markus since their mother’s funeral two years ago.

Who killed Markus? Was it someone trying to keep his latest protest song from publication? Was it the powerful and secretive uncle of his ex-girlfriend Rebecca? Or was it one of the other women Markus had callously abandoned?

To unravel the truth, Melinda and Emily must first face their own demons. Melinda, a former social worker, suffers from PTSD ― haunted by the people she failed to help and unable to maintain meaningful relationships. Emily also pushes people away ― afraid she’ll get hurt and afraid they’ll find out she’s Three Strikes: a masked vigilante who violently punishes abusive men.

Markus wasn’t a good man, but he was family. And it’s up to his sisters to uncover his lifetime of lies and the truth of his death.

Haunting, gripping, and relevant, No Home for Killers explores the conflicts that tear families apart―and the tragedies that force them back together.

Vera Wong's Unsolicited Advice for Murderers
Jesse Q. Sutanto


[from the publisher]
Vera Wong is a lonely little old lady—ah, lady of a certain age—who lives above her forgotten tea shop in the middle of San Francisco’s Chinatown. Despite living alone, Vera is not needy, oh no. She likes nothing more than sipping on a good cup of Wulong and doing some healthy detective work on the Internet about what her Gen-Z son is up to.

Then one morning, Vera trudges downstairs to find a curious thing—a dead man in the middle of her tea shop. In his outstretched hand, a flash drive. Vera doesn’t know what comes over her, but after calling the cops like any good citizen would, she sort of . . . swipes the flash drive from the body and tucks it safely into the pocket of her apron. Why? Because Vera is sure she would do a better job than the police possibly could, because nobody sniffs out a wrongdoing quite like a suspicious Chinese mother with time on her hands. Vera knows the killer will be back for the flash drive; all she has to do is watch the increasing number of customers at her shop and figure out which one among them is the killer.

What Vera does not expect is to form friendships with her customers and start to care for each and every one of them. As a protective mother hen, will she end up having to give one of her newfound chicks to the police?

Mia P. Manansala

[from the publisher]
Lila Macapagal’s godmothers April, Mae, and June—AKA the Calendar Crew—are celebrating the opening of their latest joint business venture, a new laundromat, to much fanfare (and controversy). However, what should’ve been a joyous occasion quickly turns into a tragedy when they discover the building has been vandalized—and the body of Ninang April’s niece, recently arrived from the Philippines, next to a chilling message painted on the floor. The question is, was the message aimed at the victim or Lila’s gossipy godmothers, who have not-so-squeaky-clean reputations?

With Ninang April falling apart from grief and little progress from the Shady Palms Police Department in this slippery case, it’s up to Lila and her network to find justice for the young woman.

The Calendar Crew have stuck their noses into everybody’s business for years, but now the tables are turned as Lila must pry into the Calendar Crew’s lives to figure out who has a vendetta against the (extremely opinionated yet loving) aunties and stop them before they strike again.

Renee James
Amble Press

[from the publisher]
Nikki Finch is a successful transgender woman with a thriving Beatnik cafe and a comfortable life until the first summer of the Trump presidency sets off a wave of violence against minorities. Nikki’s carefully curated world is shattered when a neo-Nazi thug attacks her business partner. She comes to his rescue, but her efforts launch a chain of events that imperil her and everyone she loves, especially her angst-ridden daughter, Morgan. Nikki will do everything she can to keep her loved ones safe, but as her civilized options begin to evaporate, she is left with no choice but to go places she’s never gone before.

Kill or be killed. It should be a simple choice. But it’s not that simple for Nikki Finch—it would have to be a cold-blooded murder and she’d have to get away with it. It could work, but what kind of example would she set for her daughter?



Manuel Ramos writes crime fiction. Read his latest story, Northside Nocturne, in the award-winning anthology Denver Noir, edited by Cynthia Swanson, published by Akashic Books.

Thursday, December 28, 2023

Chicanonautica: The Info Wilderness and the Masked Marvel

by Ernest Hogan

Further north through the marine layer fog with the sun struggling to burn through.

Deep into that forest, there was no cell coverage. Disconnected. The wilderness of the Information Age.

Once the fog had cleared, on a forest mountain road, we were held up by road construction. A flagger avoided eye contact. Soon the pilot car could be seen. The flagger exhaled a huge, thick vape cloud. It was hard to believe that human lungs could hold that much. We told him we were impressed.

A sign said NO SERVICES IN ROCKPORT. I thought it would make a good story title. A tale of the info wilderness . . .

We came across some old, rusted farm equipment. You often see it in rural areas, they look weird, like sculptures, so I can’t resist taking pictures. There were saws in the mix . .  . Hmm.

An old guy and a woman came out and asked if we wanted any firewood. He had a workshop. A wood guy! He and Mike hit it off, talking wood, he even cut Mike a chunk of weird wood. Mike was going to use it in making his drums.

Jim the Woodcutter had a lot to say. The local economy tanked when the illegal marijuana business was replaced by the legal cannabis industry. No more wild times and lighting joints with hundred dollar bills.

As we were pulling back on the road, another guy came walking by. He had an American flag sticking out of his backpack. He said his name was John and he was walking across America. He started in Florida. We gave him some money.

We pulled into Leggett in search of a bathroom.

Found one in the Peg House, that was built using a mortise and tenon style of joinery–pegs!--without a single nail. It’s also a restaurant and a live music venue.

There were lots of interesting stickers that blended into some collage art.

It was also for sale.

I found a battered copy of a novel about Pancho Villa for next to nothing at a Garberville thrift shop. With my story “ Pancho Villa’s Flying Circus” in Guerrilla Mural of a Siren’s Song and my family’s Villista connections, he’s become like a patron saint to me, the way John “San Juan de Hollywood” Wayne is to certain other Americanos.

Then there was Anglin Second Hand in Eureka. It was not far from a YES, YOU CAN SMOKE WEED INSIDE place.

And talk about weird shit! I’d say they were ready for Halloween, but there was something about the back room serial killer tableau that had me considering otherwise. 

And I found a copy of  The Fair God: Or, Last of the ‘Tzins, A Tale of the Conquest of Mexico, by Lew Wallace, the 35th edition from 1887.

After more foggy forests, we came to Crescent City, where we found a great Mexican restaurant called Toreros.

Not only was the food good, the joint was brimming over with its own kind of weirdness, from the magic mushroom and critical of capitalism bathroom graffiti—for once, actually scratched, graffiti meaning “little scratch” Italian—

to kitchy beer ad art, 

to a bizarre flower pot that featured what has to be one of the most demented uses of a dolphin ever.

I was heading for the door feeling satisfied, when Emily said, “You’ve got to have this,” and handed me a trifold she found on a nearby rack. It had a picture of an enmascarado. Figuring it looked promising, I tucked it into my sketchbook.

Turns out it was—en español—the story of Bob Pettitt, a non-Hispanic name, but I should talk. He was having a fantastic career in professional wrestling, under many names: La Maravilla Enmascarada, La Pantera Rosa, El Consentido Enmascarado, Bob Pitts, El Poderoso Yankee, Señor ‘X’, y como la Pantera Negra. When he had a horrific car accident, and was miraculously cured, he gave up the ring to spread the word of the Lord. 

I Googled him, and he was for real. In the Seventies he was preaching, helping a newspaper expose the wrestling biz, and appearing on a Christian children’s TV show, Black Buffalo Pow Wow. He’d be pretty old now. Could he still be alive? The trifold a P.O. box in Appleton, WA, was for people to write for more copies of this  IMPRESSION NUMERO OCHO ! Just how miraculous was that cure . . .

Weirdness. But then the art form (not sport) of lucha libre is a variation on the medieval morality plays, where angels and demons bashed it out on stage.

Come to think of it, aren’t the two most famous luchadors named Santo and Blue Demon?

Ernest Hogan’s new book, Guerrilla Mural of a Siren’s Song: 15 Gonzo Science Fiction Stories is out! His reading of an excerpt will be part of an upcoming episode of the radio program/podcast Gómez-Peña’s Mex Files from Lumpen Radio. And he will be teaching an online class on “Gonzo Science Fiction, Chicano Style” at the Spring 2024 Palabras del Pueblo Writing Workshop.

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

The Lucky Grapes: A New Year's Eve Story

Written by Tracey Kyle 

Illustrated by Marina Astudillo


Publisher: Sky Pony 

Language: English

Hardcover: 32 pages

ISBN-10: 1510768882

ISBN-13: 978-1510768888


Tonight there is a celebración for New Year’s Eve.

Rafa has been counting down the hours ‘til they leave.


It’s New Year’s Eve in Spain, and Rafa is excited to stay up for the first time ever to celebrate with his familia at the plaza. There’ll be fireworks and música and . . . grapes? Rafa finds out that he needs to eat a small grape with each of the twelve midnight chimes to bring luck in the New Year. Can he do it? Will he even make it to midnight?


Rafa frowns a little. The lucky grapes are small.

What happens if he drops one, or doesn’t eat them all?


Tracey Kyle’s read-aloud, rhyming text is sprinkled with words in Spanish, while Marina Astudillo’s authentic illustrations capture this popular tradition in all its joy and hope for the New Year. Young readers will be eager to count in Spanish with Rafa and experience this unique, enchanting celebration of culture. 


Tracey Kyle is a middle school Spanish teacher in Northern Virginia, where she lives with her husband and two very spoiled cats. When she’s not grading papers or working on a new story, she enjoys cooking, reading and yoga. The Lucky Grapes is her sixth book for children.


Marina Astudillo is a Spanish illustrator and graphic designer. Her signature style includes bold colors and painterly scenes of food, women, florals and day-to-day life. As a curious and observant person, she loves to capture the beauty of small things and whimsical moments. Originally from Madrid, she has also lived in Amsterdam and Toronto. Over the course of seven years, she has combined her career as a designer in advertising agencies with developing an artistic brand of her own. Her work has been put into branding, prints, accessories and many other supports. This is her first picture book.

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

After Alzheimer's: Ambushed by Memory of a Place


Moving Back into Reality One Mall at a Time

Michael Sedano

Only once in our Alzheimer's dementia career did i lose my Barbara in public, during the third year of our five-year passage. By this year, the disease has taken away swaths of vocabulary, debilitates her gait and balance, neutralizes emotions, and constrains Barbara's sociability. Dementia causes profound change, but that doesn't alter one fact: Wherever we are, Barbara is present, observant, and happy. 

Barbara enjoys interacting in the world as she finds it, so we go places and do things. We walk, gain visual stimulation, interact with people, read words connected to things, make small decisions in a restaurant. We're becoming less competent but the world is kind to people like us, generally speaking.


One day, I take Barbara to J.C. Penny in the gargantuan Arcadia mall. I'm happy that Barbara selects a garment to try-on. She never liked shopping but this represents decisions and persistence of thoughts, i.e., memory. I'm acutely aware of our progressions.

There's a chair near the sole door into the changing rooms where Barbara will undress herself, don the new garment, undress the try-on, and put on her street clothes. Thereafter, she'll exit the only door. Barbara will see me, I'll see her. I'll take her hand as always, and we shall stroll into the next moment in this place. I am confident Barbara will perform these physical tasks, in her own time, for sure, but she can do it. I don't measure her absence.


I hear my name called over the store sound system. Please come to a register far from where I sit near the fitting room's only door. I get to this place lickety-split. Barbara smiles seeing me as I approach. Barbara recognizes me even if she occasionally forgets my name and that we are married, that I am her husband. She trusts people.


My immense gratitude to the clerk who recognizes Barbara's confusion then acted so effectively, clashes with my panicking emotional turmoil. Relief passes to realization my negligence hasn't turned into horror, a worst case scenario you hear about Alzheimer's Dementia. 


I never want to feel like this not ever again, please, I tell myself, as Barbara and I walked into the mall that day, as if nothing had happened in J.C. Penny. 

I don't go into that store again, until Christmas week.


This afternoon, my friend Thelma and I walk into J.C. Penny. Memory nudges then floods across my eyes. Walking into those double doors from the parking lot, I hesitate, recoil, set my feet to flee. I'm overpowered feeling again that instant of fearful dread knowing a helpless woman wandering lost could have attracted evil people. I don't want to be here.


Off to my side, daylight coming through double doors exiting to the parking lot pulls my eyes outside. Barbara would have gone to the light. Strangers are out there. I take a deep breath and exhale, wanting to expel the memories. I cannot, the power of this space overcomes me.


Thelma and I stroll into the mall like any two Christmas shoppers. I look into stores and rest area niches wondering, would I have found Barbara there? How could I not see Barbara leave? There is only a single door. My mind has gotten trapped between now and that moment four years ago.

My friend and I go shopping and when it's time, we head back the way we entered the mall. For the second time today, I walk into J.C. Penny. I concentrate on getting through this place before memory ambushes me again. All I want is out of here. 

We pass through those double doors and I've forgotten where I parked. Thelma takes my hand and guides me to the right place for me. 

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Poetry Connection: Connecting with Our Deceased Loved Ones

Melinda Palacio

Carpinteria audience

firefighters placing stars on tree

While this week is all about Christmas for me. One of the traditions I will add to my holiday events is Hospice’s Light Up a Life. I have to admit when Poet Laureate Emerita, Perie Longo, Santa Barbara’s second poet laureate, asked me to read poetry at two Hospice events, I was a little reluctant. Hospice is that bittersweet institution you don’t know you need until you are faced with the final days of a loved one. I usually keep my grief to myself and don’t wish to be consoled by strangers. However, the hospice celebrations consisted of a series of uplifting celebrations of life. 


Light Up a Light is a fundraiser where people buy stars for their loved ones. After a name is placed on a star, you can put the star on their large tree or have a firefighter reach the highest bough. Given my history with Hospice and the many hours I spent taking care of my grandmother during her last month of life, I realized how nice it felt to give back to the organization. Although all events are very similar, each location adds its own flair. My favorite out of Santa Barbara, Montecito, Carpinteria, and Goleta was the one in Carpinteria because the program follows the town’s Christmas Parade and everyone is in a festive mood. The post parade crowd drew a large audience. There was also the opportunity to do some last-minute Christmas shopping at the local art market. The challenge for me was having so many events crammed into the one week, beginning with the local author day the previous Saturday at the Santa Barbara Public Library, followed by the opening Light Up a Life event in front of the Lobero Theater, followed by rehearsals for Las Posadas, the Carpinteria Light Up a Life on Wednesday, a poetry workshop and  the Independent’s holiday party on Thursday, followed by Una Noche de las Posadas on Friday. A busy week but I wouldn’t have it any other way.  


 I read my poem, “What the Birds Know,” from my latest book, Bird Forgiveness. The poem is about taking care of my grandmother during her last days. Thanks to hospice, my family was able to bring my grandmother home after the doctor declared there was nothing more that could be done for her. These are such hard words to hear and hospice helps family with at home support and counseling. In my case, these events happened in Del Rio, Texas. 


In Santa Barbara, my hospice stories revolve around losing two good friends, most recently our beloved former Poet Laureate Sojourner Kincaid Rolle. I spent several afternoons sitting with Sojourner in her hospice room in hopes that my presence would ease her journey. In the last days of her life, I learned more about Sojourner through the variety of friends and relatives who came to visit her than in the twenty years of our friendship. 


I am grateful that Perie Longo asked me read at half of the hospice events. Perie is an important member of Hospice of Santa Barbara, where she has led a group on Writing Poetry for Bereavement for twenty years; she says it feels like only twenty weeks. One of the recent changes is that the group meets on Zoom. She says that each face on zoom is part of quilt of comfort, each poem a frame to contain and hold the moment that helps everyone on the path to healing. 

*a version of this column was published in the Santa Barbara Independent

Treading Lightly on Sacred Ground


Respect for Learning

     He sat in front of me with a cocky expression on his face, superior, like what was he doing here in the dean’s office, anyway, and what nerve did I have pulling him out of class in front of the other students.

     I had to consider the “ethnicity card,” how these students, mostly solid middle-class, some from extremely wealthy families, especially some international students, perceived me, not a traditional “White” administrator who earned his position, but a Mexican dean, one of the few Mexicans in the administrative chain. That threw them, especially back in 1990, before the tide had begun to shift and more of us moved into the upper echelon of higher education.

     Sure, I knew when students and colleagues were “testing” me, even in the class when I taught, I understood the game they played to see if I really knew my “stuff,” or if I was just an affirmative action selection, which the media had slandered with negative stereotypes, using the worst examples and splattering them across the front pages. 

     However, by this time, I’d been around long enough. I'd worked at different universities. I had earned a strong reputation, both in teaching and in administration, which is more than I can say for a lot of my colleagues, whom, because of their privileged position in society, never had to prove their worth, which, in many cases, in my estimation, was lacking.

     In fact, what I learned was that in any professional endeavor, the “competent,” those who worked hard, were smart, and knew their jobs, eventually tended to gravitate to each other, and form friendships, respectful of each other’s professionalism and of the institution, the sacred bastion of learning, regardless of whom they were or from where they came.

     So, here I was holding this student’s personal folder in my hands, studying his Admission’s Application. First off, I realized the photo in his file didn’t match the guy “mad dogging” me from the other side of my desk, but photos can be deceptive, like in court, under close scrutiny, a witness's positive identification might fall apart. He looked Southeast Asian, maybe Indonesian or Malaysian.

    What I knew, for sure, was the guy in the chair facing me was no nineteen, like the box marked on his application indicated, more like well-past twenty; though, he had a youngish look about him.

     As dean of Enrollment Services, I’d received a report about one student posing as another, an imposter taking the real kid's classes, for pay. I had to be careful, like I said, tread lightly, avoid letting things “go south,” to get at the truth. The guy wasn't about to admit his misdeed, and I didn’t want to be accused of harassment, or worse, racial discrimination. Anyway, I was in no rush. Should I play Colombo or Elliot Ness, maybe Tom Cruise in that movie with Jach Nicholson, you know it, "You can't handle the truth?

     The way it started was, an hour or so earlier, an assistant had peeked her head into my office and told me a student had become suspicious of these two students running a scam in a history class. It just so happened the class the imposter was currently sitting in was my friend, Harvey’s class, a popular history prof at the community college, where I worked. Coincidentally, Harvey's class was right down the hall, so I asked my assistant to go interrupt Harvey and fetch him. “Tell him it’s an emergency.”

     Unflustered, Harvey came into my office, with his jovial, “Hey, what’s up? You know you got me in the middle of class.”

     I explained the situation and showed Harvey the student’s personal folder. I pointed to the picture and asked, “Harvey, is this the student in your class?"   

     Harvey took one look. “Negative,” he answered, clearly aggravated, hating the idea that someone was pulling something over on him. “That’s not him, not by that name. So, what now?”

     “Send him to my office. Don’t tell him why. Finish your class then come back. Sit there, in the back, where he can feel you breathing down his neck.”

     “Good cop, bad cop?”

     “Naw, just sit and watch, more like an objective observer.”

     So, that’s how it came to be that this young man, visibly irritated, was sitting in front of me.

     I started slowly, playing dumb, interrogating him, asking questions, trying to get him to slip up. He was an international student, according to his file, studying here before transferring to UCLA, to study engineering. Good, fine, let’s get on with it.

     Ten minutes had passed. Harvey returned. He took a seat behind the kid. I asked more questions. The kid had done his homework, memorized dates, classes, grades, all that good stuff, but I could see, finally, my questions were getting to him. His nerves showed, his arrogance slipping, a little more contrite.

     At times, I sat there calmy, in silence, except for the muffled voices outside my office, phones ringing, a fax machine spitting out something. I just let the kid stew. I looked down at the application. I spotted a line, “Parents’ Name.” I got an idea. I bluffed. Though it wasn’t written down, I asked, “So, what’s your mother’s maiden name?”

     He was in trouble. I could see it in his eyes. The superiority was gone. Instead of saying he didn’t know, he cried out, “Okay! It’s not me. I’m not him. I’m taking his classes. He’s paying me $5,000 a class.”

     “How long have you been doing this? Are you a student here?”

     “Since last semester, not every class, just the ones he doesn't want to bother with. No, no, I did go here, but I transferred. I’m a grad student at UCLA. I needed the money. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I was just helping a friend.”

     “Is he really a friend?”

     He knew what I was asking. He looked at me, embarrassed, “No. I met him through another student.”

     Harvey stood up, disgusted, ready to walk out of the office. I motioned for him to sit down. I needed a witness, just in case. Some students are wily. They'll accuse you of all kinds of things, from assault to sexual abuse, or just plain up thuggery. 

    I asked the student for his personal information, like we’d been in a fender bender. I copied down everything he told me. I called in my assistant to bring me his file. After she found it, and I corroborated the details, I told him he could go, but I wanted him to return and bring the other student with him. When he walked out the door, I wasn’t sure I’d ever see him again.

      Harvey, known as a campus prankster, stood over six-foot, looked at me, and said, “Very cool, Professor.” He walked out. He always called me “professor” because he said I’d get sick of administration, one day, and come to my senses, and get back to the classroom where I belonged. He was right, but it took a few years.

     A day or two later, my assistant stepped into my office. “They’re here, the two students you wanted to see, the ones scamming Harvey’s class.”

     I called Harvey in his office. He was free. I told him what was up, and he came running to my office. He took a seat at the back, a Cheshire cat grin on his face.

     Long story short, the nineteen-year-old denied everything. Dumb! Dumb! How can you deny what everybody else saw? The other guy, the imposter, spoke up. He told the kid to fess up. We already knew everything. I was confused. The imposter looked at me and said, “The only way I could get him here was to say you needed to see him about an error on his application, or he wouldn’t come. He doesn't know why he's here.”

     The younger kid said, “How…why did…?”

     The imposter turned to the kid and said, desperately, “The dean asked me your mother’s maiden name. I didn't know it.”

     “Nobody does," said the kid. "It’s not even on the application.”

     Silence. The imposter glared at me. I nodded, that kind of “Orale, y que?” nod, like, “Got you, Ay.”

     The younger kid commenced to cry, real tears, but I questioned the emotions, too much experience in my life dealing with liars, friends and cousins hurting for money, making up anything, some real whoppers, to get a few dollars for whatever illicit commodity they needed. I could see it in the kid’s eyes, the high that comes from manipulating others for whatever you want, and nobody can touch you.

     He started by telling me he wasn’t smart enough to earn the A’s his father demanded. I opened the folder and took another look at his transcripts. Sure enough, nothing less than an A. He said he had to work three jobs to pay the imposter to take his classes and to please, please not to tell his father or he'd have to return home and face the old man's wrath, a very abusive person who beats him. If this gets out it will ruin his life.

     Harvey and I listened, the story pouring out of the kid like water rushing from a faucet. Harvey raised an eyebrow, skepticism or empathy. I couldn’t get a good read on him.

     Now the moral dilemma. I could keep quiet about it, forget the whole thing, chalk it up to a stupid-kid’s experience, or do what was required and send the two students through the process, a whole lot of administrative work, tough decisions, and possible headaches. Tread lightly. No, there wasn’t much of a decision. I had to do what was right. I told the kid he’d be hearing from us. For now, I was suspending him. He blurted out, "No. Please." I could tell he was more angry than remorseful.

     Later, the “finger” returned, the first kid who blabbered on about the academic scam. I wanted to talk to him. I filled him in on everything that had happened. He listened. When I finished, he told me he knew the kid. They had both come from the same country. He said the kid was spoiled. His father had so much money, he didn’t even handle his finances. He had a manager. The manager would send the kid thousands of dollars each month, more if he wanted.

     “Three jobs! No way. He’s out at the clubs partying every night, and he sleeps all day, while this other guy is taking his classes. He probably already paid the guy thousands of dollars.”

     “Why did you come in here and report this?" I was curious. 

     “Because it isn’t fair, and we aren't all like him. He makes foreign students look bad.”

     I wrote up all the particulars, explained what had transpired, and emailed it to my boss, the vice-president of Student Affairs, and a copy to UCLA's registrar. It took a while, but someone up the chain of command ordered both students expelled. The community college student’s record was wiped clean, the A's gone, like he’d never enrolled. I heard the UCLA student had been dropped from his Ph. D. science program. Both students were also told their academic records would follow them wherever they tried to enroll. It all sounded kind of harsh. The whole incident ruined their educations.

     I thought about all the kids who worked hard for their grades, studied hours, gave up family time, some who had to work, babysit brothers and sisters, take two, three buses to campus and back home, yet still stay up all night studying. Who was to know then that, years later, a group of movie stars, celebrities, and rich folk would pay a scam artist to get their kids into the best colleges and universities. Man, what money can buy.

     Like Spike Lee said, “Do the right thing,” but then, things don’t always go as planned, you know, about the “best laid plans of mice and men,” all the things that can go wrong, turn around an bite you in the ass. I guess there’s something to be said for treading lightly.