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If you're going to bullshit a bullshitter,

be ready to have it shoved right back in your face.

Sublet by Preston Lang

How do I know her? Marta had half a second’s queasy uncertainty. But only half a second.

When she first came to New York she’d sublet an apartment from a woman called Lauren Leflore who was going to Myanmar for a year to work in public health. Marta was impressed with this sleek, selfless, cosmopolitan, and she was delighted to be getting a bargain on the place—$760 a month. The only catch was that she had to come up with six month’s rent in advance.  

So, yes, Marta was an idiot, but seven other people fell for the scam, too. The police were called, and they did a lot of shrugging—it’s a civil matter, folks. As far as Marta knew, that crook got away clean with more than $30,000.

Now here was Lauren Leflore dressed like a businesswoman on lunch break eating her turkey on whole wheat in the park.  

Marta took off her backpack and fished out her wallet. She removed her one valid credit card and a twenty dollar bill and tucked them into her shoe. That left a lot of junk: a Blockbuster and gym membership, her work ID from the old job, a cancelled Discover card, and eleven dollars.

She sat down next to Lauren and fussed with her zipper for a minute.

“Excuse me?” she said finally. “Would you look after my bag for just a moment?”

“I’ve got to get back to work in a bit.”

“It’ll only be five minutes. Ten at the most.”

“Sure,” Lauren said with a smile, showing off those perfect, reassuring teeth.

Marta quickly walked off and hid behind the stone building that held the bathrooms.

Lauren wasn’t in a hurry. After a few minutes, she rummaged through the bag, found the wallet, and got up, leaving the bag behind. Marta followed at a distance as Lauren made her way to a big clothing store on Fourteenth Street.

There was a cop on the corner.

“Officer, a woman stole my wallet,” Marta told him. “I followed her to that store.”

“You saw her do it?”

“She bumped into me, then I realized my wallet was gone. I chased her down, but I don’t feel comfortable confronting her on my own.”

For a second, it looked like the cop was going to blow her off but he said a few words into his radio and accompanied Marta into the store.

Lauren was in line waiting to buy a nice leather jacket.

Marta let her get to the front before pointing her out. “There she is.”

By the time she and the cop reached the checkout line, the jacket was in a bright red shopping bag but the card had been declined.

“That’s your card, ma’am?” the cop asked Lauren.

“Yes, it is,” Lauren said. Not a flicker of recognition in her eyes at the sight of Marta.

“This woman says you stole her wallet.”

“Well, she’s wrong.”

Lauren didn’t sound angry and she made the accusation feel a touch ridiculous.

“May I see that?” the cop said to the clerk. The clerk, bored even in the middle of a police action, handed over the card.

“So you are Marta Vaughan?” the cop asked Lauren.

“Yes, I am.”

“No, I am,” Marta said.

“Wonderful. Either of you have a photo ID?”

“I have a work ID in my wallet, which she took from me,” Marta said

“Ma’am, can I see your wallet?” the cop said to Lauren.


Lauren handed over the wallet. She was not pleased but not acting shady either.

If Marta didn’t know better, she’d think Lauren was an important woman who was getting tired playing silly games.

The cop found plenty of cards with the name Marta Vaughan but nothing with a photograph. Lauren must have tossed the ID at some point.

“I don’t see anything with a picture,” the cop said to Lauren.

“I don’t drive,” Lauren answered. “My only photo ID is my passport. I don’t carry that around.”

“So you’re Marta Vaughan and this lady is crazy?”

“It would seem,” Lauren said.

The cop turned back to Marta. “Where was your wallet when she stole it?”

“In my pocket.”

“You got pockets? I don’t see pockets?”

Damn it. No pockets in her dress.

“In the—I had a bag,” Marta said.

“Whoa, this is new. Where’s the bag?”

“She took it.”

“She pickpocketed your bag, or she snatched the bag right out of your hands?”

“She . . . snatched it.”

“Remember when you said she pickpocketed you and you didn’t realize it until later?”

“I—she took it out of the pocket of—”

“Okay. Ma’am. I’m going to ask you to apologize to this woman, and that’s going to be the end of it. The alternative is I take you in for a false claim. Your choice.”

There were ways to verify that she really was Marta Vaughan. If they took her down to the station, she could prove it. But what would that matter if they didn’t bring Lauren too?

“I’m sorry. I made a mistake,” Marta said.

“Honestly. Get yourself some help,” Lauren said, putting one hand on her shoulder. The cop gave her the credit card and she walked out of the store.

“You understand that you are lucky?” he said to Marta. “No one has time for this kind of nonsense.”

Marta watched Lauren and the red bag disappear up the stairs.

It was another two minutes before the checkout clerk remembered that the credit card had been declined. 

Preston Lang lives in New York with his wife and daughter. His stories have appeared in Thuglit, Spinetingler, Crime Syndicate, and Betty Fedora. He has published three crime novels to date and also writes a monthly column for WebMD. For more information, check out