By Gary Curtis (Icekings)




What is it that drives a man to commit the ultimate crime? Yes, you know what one I'm talking about. Murder. The coldly conceived, planned and executed taking of another life. And convincing yourself it is justified.

Is it greed? Well, I've never thought myself a greedy person, but I suppose you could argue that a burning desire to obtain something is at the heart of every foul act. Greed is simply trying to obtain more than you need, that's all.

Ambition? A close cousin to the former, I'd say; so, yes.

Insanity? Read on, and I'll let you be the judge of that.

Revenge? Oh, yes. Oh my, yes.

But there is an easier way to state all those reasons, to wrap them up in a nice, neat little package. The impetus for my actions is the victim of them: Namely, one Thomas Wentworth Jackson.

Now, before I say anything more about someone who scarcely deserves the bother, I should introduce myself. I, Bertram J. Pelcher, MD, Ophthalmologist, a lifelong native of Clarksville, Texas, am the leading provider of laser eye surgery in the Tri-state area. I am also the owner of one of the finest collections of trading cards and related memorabilia in the world. It is my passion. While other men clutter up their miserable little lives with trivialities like spouses and children and friends, I invest my time and money in my hobby. And what an investment it turned out to be. My profession provides me with an excellent income and the spare cash to pursue my pastime, and now that pastime is worth millions.

T. W. Jackson, on the other, or was...the fly in my soup. The pebble in my shoe. A first class pain in the kiester. And a worthless copycat. At times, I think he was put on this earth just to annoy me.

You see, we grew up in the same neighborhood; he on the next street over from mine. It started almost from the time we first became aware of each other, in second grade at Millard Fillmore Elementary. Which was bad enough. Why it couldn't have been one of the cool Presidents like Washington or Lincoln...but it taught me a very important lesson for later on: Obscurity can be your friend. But back to my nemesis. When little Bertram got a new toy, little Tommy got a cooler one. When Bert got a new bike, Tom's had more chrome and one of those far-out banana seats. When I finally worked up the courage to ask a (rather ugly-hey, I figured there wasn't that much to lose) girl to dance at eighth grade graduation, he walked up and asked the prettiest girl in the whole school. Of course she said yes. And the next year, when we were fourteen, and 'ol Bert's eyes went bad and he got great big Coke-bottle lenses...guess who got fitted for contacts? And just last year, when I shelled out beaucoup bucks for a state-of-the-art hairpiece that can't be told from the real thing, he goes and gets that new painless transplant treatment. Never mind that I could have...he did it just to scorch my tuchus.

What he had against me, I still don't know. But I swore, in that fourteenth year of my life, that it would stop. I would do something he wouldn't know about and try to rob from me. And so, surreptitiously, I began buying packs of gum cards after school, on trips to the grocery with my mom or to the farm-and-garden with my dad. There was always some five-and-dime that had them. Yeah, I bought the ball cards that we all did, and Jackson did, too. But I bought everything. The obscure stuff. The TV shows. The icky monsters. Those wacky fake-product package things. You know, like 'Blisterine' mouthwash and 'Gadzooka' bubble gum. This was late 1960s, early 70s, long before the sports craze began in the 80s and everyone began 'investing' in trading cards. Sure, I took part in that, too, but I was ahead of them all. I bought stuff that kids looked at, played with and threw away, unlike their Mickey Mantle and Pete Rose and Willie Mays cards that they kept safe in shoeboxes so that their mothers could throw them away when they left for college. Heh heh. But not mine.

I was a fanatic about my collecting. I had plastic sheets to hold my cards practically before anyone knew they existed, or why. Every spare cent from my allowance and odd jobs I did around the neighborhood went into building my sets, and I paid close attention to condition. If a card had a little nick, wasn't cut quite on center or had one of those dreadful bubble-gum stains, it went on my list to be replaced with a better one. I was smart enough to know that the checklist cards shouldn't be used for their intended purpose or you'd ruin them. I collected nearly every odd product that came along, as well as my Topps sets from the four big sports.

I also did something practically nobody thought to do back then. Packs were costing a nickel and later a dime, and at 36 to a box, for less than four extra bucks, or what I got for mowing a lawn or shoveling out a snow-filled driveway (yes, we do get snow in northeast Texas), I could buy a whole box just to put away. I bought two of some, because I was an ambitious kid and worked my fanny off for the money. Of course, Jerkson was right there competing with me for those jobs and stealing some of them. Better lawnmower. Bigger shovel. The jerk. What he did with his money I never knew or cared. He never found out how I spent mine. It was something I kept from everybody. Except my parents, of course. I slowly filled up the attic and started taking over the garage. "Someday, you'll thank me." I told my exasperated father.

Well, part two of my plan to trump my rival didn't go quite as well. He enrolled in the same medical school as I did and in the same field. My goal was to see, if I could, that NO kid would ever suffer the shame of wearing those glasses that forever branded the wearer a geek. His was to copy me. But, finally, I had the upper hand. I graduated with honors and went on to complete my studies. I became an ophthalmologist. He couldn't cut it. He became an optician. I was a real doctor while he was just a pretender. But the sonuva gun got the last laugh again. Damned if he didn't grow his little storefront into a whole chain of shops, filling my prescriptions. The nerve!

At least I had one thing he didn't; my collecting. It was the early 90s by then and the boom was starting to go bust. Too many companies making too many sets of everything, sports and non-sports alike, to the point the old-time collectors like me said to heck with it. The 'investors' lost their shirts, pants and what those pants covered up. I saw the whole thing as it was happening and sat on the sidelines on that stuff 'til the bottom fell out, while my obscure little vintage treasures went through the roof. My parents did thank me. I sold one of the three cases of basketball cards I bought in '86, the year of Michael Jordan rookies, for $83,000. Not a bad return on my investment of twelve bucks a box times 24 in a case. It bought my folks a nice little retirement home down in Fort Myers. The other two cases I unloaded for even more when the professional card-grading craze took off and a 'perfect 10' Jordan brought twenty grand at auction. 2-3 Jordans per box times 24, times two. Potentially two million worth of cardboard...I dumped them so fast your head would spin...and today, with Jordan twice-retired and back playing again a shell of what he once was, I could buy those cases back for a third of what I got for 'em. Yeah, I know my stuff...

All this time I was pouring my profits back into the good old material as it turned up. It was getting harder to find but the focus was still on sports. You could still get the old non-sports sets and even the odd box here or there, and I was slowly filling in the holes in my collection. The things that never made it into my local childhood hangouts. I now owned a full, unopened box of just about everything ever made from the late 50s right through the 80s. The modern stuff I avoided like the plague but studied intently. Some day, some of the obscure product would take off. I'd buy it before that happened. Yeah, I know my stuff...

It was all too good to last. Someone said something to someone else, and before I knew it, the local fishwrap ran an article about the hometown Doc that could turn cardboard into gold. My secret was out. Suddenly, it got a whole lot harder to find that great deal. People suspected what they had up in their attics or down in their basements and if I was interested in looking at it, they automatically asked for the moon and the stars. Most of it wasn't worth the dust that covered it.

I turned to the internet for most of my hunting and it went well for a few months. But something strange began to happen. More and more often, I was outbid for those things I wanted. That never happened. I would pay more than anyone; too much at times, because I knew the truly scarce things would pay me back eventually. Yeah, I know my stuff...

More and more, it happened. I got 'sniped' one too many times, for an item I'd been searching over three years for, and it ticked me off. Why I never thought previously to look at who was beating me, I don't know. But I kept a page of every auction I bid on, for reference...and it blew me away. Nine of ten auctions I'd gotten beat on were won by someone using the name 'twj55'.

Thomas Wentworth Jackson. Born the same year as I, 1955.




I am furious. I am livid. I am dying to see what the SOB has got. And he has got it. How the heck he accumulated that much pristine vintage material in such a short time...and without me knowing about it. He's managed to acquire nearly everything I have, and a goodly number of things I don't. His smirking grin as he shows off his collection to me in the sprawling den of the house that is bigger than my stately manse, I want to wipe off. After I finish strangling him with my bare hands. The blasted copier.

Until I learn about a possible means of getting back at him...

"What is this?" I ask myself as I pore over the massive list of entries in his fat notebook. "Powerpuff Girls? I knew they had cards, but THIS many?" There are nine different series plus cards from a movie or two, all with those 'chase card' insert sets that, in my opinion, had ruined the hobby. Everyone wanted the 'special' cards that were found only in one pack or less out of every box and the regular cards themselves were treated as junk. No one bothered to build sets anymore. Except for purists like myself and, apparently, Jokeson, here. His are all neatly displayed in sheets and albums.

"Well, Tom," I say, trying to show I still know more than he ever will, "You'll never find this cartoon crap in my collection. I mean, give me a break. Powderpuff Girls?"

"Only the best cartoon to come along in ages." he answers. "And a damned tough set to complete." Smugly, he adds, "But it is."

"Of course," I say knowingly, "You'd have at least a full, mint case of everything."

"Of course." he replies in agreement. But a slight twitching of one eye reveals to me something important.

"Aha! There's something he's missing!"

I will find out what that is. I am now going to beat him at his own game.


* * * * * * *


I start to watch the show. I agree with Jackson's assessment of it. I become obsessed with it, and the characters. Something different and refreshing about it. The contrast of such little killing machines that are as cute and innocent as can be. I begin to build my own sets and learn just how difficult it is. The regular sets are found everywhere, dirt cheap. The insert sets, most of them, can be had, complete by series, fairly reasonably. But there are a few special cards that are tough to find indeed. One in particular. There is a story behind it.

The card, to those in the know, is as famous in modern non-sports folklore as the famed Honus Wagner T-206 baseball card. To neophytes, it is the Rowdyruff Boys card from the Series 2 'Mojo Jojo Villains' chase set. But, to those in the know, it is simply called by its number, 'V-7'.

Always a popular, or infamous, card, for assorted reasons. Little girls either love or hate the 'RRB', as they come to be known. So that card is either ripped in half and flung in the garbage or taped or tacked to bedroom walls for the young girls with pre-adolescent romance on their minds to daydream over. A goodly number of them also find their way into the hands of single adult males with no lives and no girlfriends, who view the RRB almost as gods, and dream they are those cartoon boys who actually never survived the only episode they ever appeared in. A rather weird mythology has sprung up with them at the center, on the various fan-run internet 'communities' devoted to the TV show. In fact, I learn as I study, with the show no longer in production and in syndication after a 7 year run, the Powerpuff Girls fanclubs are all but gone but the few male-dominated RRB ones are stronger than ever. These guys carry those V-7 cards around with them in their wallets (which ruins them, of course) like little talismans, as if they hope to inherit the RRB's special powers that will make them attractive to the opposite sex. Not much chance of that happening.

This rather strange and disturbing dynamic apparently disturbs the show's creators as well. Over the objections of the marketing department, any RRB-related merchandise headed for production is killed, and whatever Series 2 card product that is still in possession of distributors is ordered destroyed. It is done quietly, so as not to create a sudden demand for it. Distributors are reimbursed at a small profit and since they are in the business of distributing, worry more about moving product than the idiosyncrasies of the collecting marketplace. The man-made scarcity of Series 2 product creeps up on collectors slowly. Six months after the recall, you hardly can find full boxes of it anywhere and the RRB card prices start to rise. Then the reason why leaks out and spreads on the auction chat board like wildfire. Within weeks, copies of the RRB card, those that hadn't been manhandled, are over $100. It is now well worth it to have them professionally graded and put in little plastic tombs. Suddenly, a fresh supply of unopened Series 2 product comes out of the woodwork and hits the market, with everyone cracking it open to get the 'scarce V-7 card', as it is now called. A 'perfect ten' sells for $1200 and then another a few days later for $1750, and the feeding frenzy is on. Everyone wants in when something is hot. Rumors of fakes spring up and soon, mangled copies from those early fans or non-fans begin to sell for $50 to $75, and then the rumors of mangled fakes begin to turn up. Eventually the prices level off and then settle back down. Today, a genuine 'V-7' graded '10' will set you back $300 or so and you can find an ungraded one for under $100 if you're willing to risk getting gypped. Rarely, you'll see a full box in the neighborhood of $500 and loose packs for $20. But, nowhere will you find a full, unopened case of 'Powerpuff Girls' Series 2 trading cards. Experienced dealers and hobbyists knew the craze would run its course and cases would fall in price, so there was no good reason to hold onto them. Everyone believed someone else would keep a few. Unfortunately, it seems, everyone thought like everyone else and no one did save any of it. And now I know what Tommy Boy doesn't have. Apparently, nobody has one.

Of course, neither do I. And I don't have a lot of other things, because 'ol Tommy continues to outbid me, and then sends me insincere little, 'tough luck, pal, better luck next time' emails after those auctions. I swear I'm going to make him pay.

One day, out of the blue, it all falls right into my lap, the opportunity to bring that rat down. An elderly lady, a new referral, comes into my office for an eye exam. I seldom get older people for laser surgery because it has grown so popular that most have had it by that age. She hasn't, and I reflect back to the times, before the internet, when some of my best leads for my great buying deals came from patients. This lady saves me the trouble of even bringing it up.

"I read that you used to be a card collector, Dr. Pelcher."

"Yes ma'am. Still am."

"Oh. My husband used to collect cards but he's dead now and I'd like to sell them."

"Well, I'd be happy to take a look."

I excuse myself and ask my staff to see the lady's paperwork. To my utter joy, I see she has no medical insurance. My bill is going to run in the hundreds, and in the thousands if I remove those cataracts she has. I return to my patient, give her my initial diagnosis and arrange an appointment to see what's in her husband's collection. Judging by her age, it's 50s baseball, and even earlier, I hope.

I go out to her house, an old Cape Cod with an unfinished attic. Small, and perfect for a couple who never had children, and a guy who spent his life collecting. Baseball, mostly, just as I expected, but he was an old-fashioned collector to whom condition was less important than just having a certain card. He has some good, but not great, stuff, and no unopened material that I can see. I am a bit disappointed. I don't really want any of it and tell her so. To me, it's worth two thousand, tops. The work to resell it isn't worth the time and trading it for the really rare stuff I'm buying now is out of the question.

"Are you sure there's nothing else?" I ask.

"That was all of his good cards."

"I'm sorry, but there's nothing I can really use. I can give you a few names, though." Waste a bit of Tommy's time. He wouldn't want it, either.

"I just remembered. My husband bought some cards to give to our great-nephew but he didn't want them. He thought they were too 'little-girly'.


"Yes. The Powderpuff kids or something. They're in the basement."

Something is telling me not to get my hopes up. "Junk." I tell myself. But, as I'm sure you've already surmised, there, under a dusty old blanket on the pool table that is loaded with junk, sits a box with the words, 'Powerpuff Girls Trading Cards' on the side panel that I can see. My heart pounding, I lift the blanket. Series 2. There it sits. My Holy Grail. I can't believe it and I hope I am concealing my shock.

"Geez, a whole box of the stuff. What possessed him to buy this much?"

"It was on sale."

"Lady, he made the buy of the century." Actually, it was just luck that he had never paid any attention to the new-card market. My luck.

"Too bad your nephew didn't want these. It was a cute show and these cards are collectible."

"Really?" She perks right up. "Are they worth anything?"

"Not a whole lot." I lie, and turn to head up the stairs. She looks like she's about to cry.

"I was hoping my husband's cards might be enough to pay my bill with you."

"They just about are. The only problem is the work I have to do to get the value out of them. It's not worth my time. But I'll tell you what. I do know some kids who would love these Powderpuff cards, so why don't you let me take them? I'll give you some names of collectors who'll be fair with you on the rest of it, and if you can't raise enough to pay your bill, I'll call it even."

What a guy I am.




Why do people collect things? There are all sorts of reasons and I won't bore you with them all. But there is a basic underlying motivation that is true for all of us. It's the thrill of the hunt. Something instinctive that goes back to our beginnings as humans.

We collect to have, of course, and we take pride in the having. But the real thrill is in the chase. Finally finding that elusive item gives you an indescribable rush, one that needs to be felt again and again, which is why many of us go to our rewards with a pile of stuff we can't take with us and could have lived nicely without.

It also gives us some wonderful stories to share amongst our fellow obsessives. That also dates back to prehistoric times. Long after the beast was cooked and eaten, Mogg the Caveman was still bragging around the fire to his mates about the chase, and the kill. Collectors love to talk about how they found their prizes.

Most of us do that, I should say. I did not, because my collecting was done in secret for so many years, and I do not still. I never cared what others thought, nor do I like people knowing what I have. Always the worry some young punks will break into the house, you know.

So now that I have my deal of my lifetime, I am about to break that practice. I want Jackson to know I have that case. I want to watch him drool over it, beg me to sell it to him; and see the utter defeat on his face when, after teasing him enough to extract an ungodly offer, turn up my nose.

There is great danger in doing that. I can't do that. Knowing him, he will stumble across, not one, but two cases. Then he'll broadcast his find to the world, trumping me one more time and worse, telling everyone about my attempt to sell him mine, and isn't he so lucky? Then, my patient will know the doctor she trusted has robbed her of a small fortune. My name will be worth less than a set of Britney Spears cards.

I won't allow him the opportunity to 'stumble' across that find. I won't allow him to have the chance to ruin me. I have planned my revenge well.

It must have the appearance of complete happenstance. Jackson must not be allowed to tell anyone he's going to my house. He cannot be seen entering my house. No witnesses and no clues. I pay cash at the city impound auction for a clunker, and I give a false name as the buyer. Late at night, into my three-car garage it goes, and I spend the next two months making it run reliably and repainting it. No one sees me doing it. Another night, dressed in black, I steal a set of license plates from a poorly-lit parking lot and stash them away. I scout the surrounding counties for good places to ditch an untraceable car with a stiff in the trunk. I know enough to gather sheets of discarded bubble wrap from different places, so that police can't trace the material to one manufacturer's lot and be able to find where and when it was purchased. Plastic will leave no fibers to find and trip me up.

Next I set up the come-on. I know Jackson's schedule. He's a health nut, too, something I never cared much for. He goes running three nights a week, from 7 to 7:45. I wait until he makes his usual left turn onto Maple, where a tall hedge obscures the view from most angles. I stop and call out to him, and shush him when he says my name. I tell him to get in, there's something very important we need to discuss. Never considering me the dangerous type, nor any kind of threat, he does and I take off before anyone can realize something untoward is going on and read my plate number. My dark-tinted glass takes care of the visual recognition possibilities.

He asks what's up. I say, "Look, Tom, this little game you've been playing with me has gone on long enough."

"I don't know what you're talking about." he answers with a disingenuous little curl of the lip.

"Bull. You know damn well. And I want it to stop. But just to show you I've no hard feelings, I have a proposition for you." We are a third of the way to my house, where we will pull right into my garage and the door will shut. No one will know he's there.

He doesn't seem impressed. "What proposition?"

"I have something I think you would like very much to see." I say with a note of mystery in my voice.

"Oh, really." he says, acting bored. Not even sweating from his run. He reaches into the pocket of his jogging suit and whips out his cell phone. "Well, let me call my wife and tell her where I've gone."

Yeah, one more thing to hold over my head. He was on his third wife and I hadn't managed to find even one. I throw out my hand to stop him. "No, I don't want anyone seeing you at my house or even knowing you're there."

Now he's suspicious, and he frowns. "What're you trying to pull?"

"Nothing. But if you don't cooperate, you're going to kill the best deal either of us are ever going to see."

Now he's really suspicious. "And why would you let me in on this?"

I smile cryptically and say, "Tommy, when you see it, you won't believe it. But you'll understand why."

"Forget it, Bert. Tell me or let me out, now!"

"Look, Tom, I'll tell you, under one condition. If you breathe a word of this to anyone, our names are mud in this hobby! You can't tell anybody. And if this works out and I get what I want out of it, in a year you can say you have it but you can never say I sold it to you or who I got it from."

We are three-quarters of the way there, and he is three-quarters sold. "What? What?"

"I've found a case of Series 2."


* * * * * * * *


We are inside my house now, and Jackson has just said, "I don't believe it." for about the sixtieth time. I make him sit at my kitchen table and I pour him a cup of coffee. He believes it, all right, and he takes the cup with trembling hands. But he has questions and my plan is not airtight...yet.

"Do you have it?" he asks, and my affirmative ratchets up his desire a notch, but his suspiciousness also. "You better tell me the whole story, Pelcher."

"I have your vow of silence or it goes back and you'll never see it."

"All right. But I don't understand why you don't want it. We both know this has to be the only one. I mean, it's been three years since the last known case was broken. One would have had to surface by now. I know how much it'll mean to you to have something I can't and won't have."

"You disappoint me, Tommy. I told you there were no hard feelings. Yes, it would be great to own something that rare, but there's something else I want more."

"And that would be?"

"I'll have the only certified gem mint set of 'Mars Attacks' in the universe. Every single card a 'ten'."

Jackson's eyes go wide. "No. Jacobs?"

"You betcha."


* * * * * * * *


Of course, everything coming from my mouth is lies. Johnny Jacobs up in Boston wants my partial set of 'tens' to finish his. I won't sell, and he hasn't given me the time of day since. I just need a plausible story, and I have a good one cooked up.

Jackson says, "I can believe Jacobs has been sitting on that case, but I can't believe he'd let it go, or let his "Mars' set go to you."

"People do strange things when Uncle Sam hits them up for cash."

Jackson actually cringed. Tax problems had caused more than one famous collection to be broken up.

"Yeah, he needs the money." I say, then finish setting the hook. "And that's not all. He's trying to save his skin."

"What? What'd he do?"

"Well, Tom, that's where you come in. And the secrecy. You know the guy's a distributor. He doesn't just have this one case, he's got six."

Jackson understands the significance of that right away, and it isn't just that Series 2 is suddenly no longer mythically rare. "Oh, no. He took the buyback money, reported the cards as destroyed and kept them."

"You got it. And now he needs to unload them and he can't. That's where we come in. We filter them into the market a box at a time over the next year or so, to keep the price and scarcity up there. We funnel the cash back to him for five cases. You get the one left, and I finish my 'Mars' set. Actually, I'm fronting him the estimated take for the five cases. You just come up with the five thousand for yours."

He does the math in his head. Five thou is just below break-even for selling a case by the box at $400 each. It'll be worth five times that when it is the lone survivor (which it is, sitting where I have it at the moment). "And then I will have the only case of Series 2. I see why I can't talk about it. But why didn't you do this whole deal on your own? I'm sure you got the cash."

"Yeah, I do, Tom. It's like I said. No hard feelings, but no more competition between us. If we both see something on the 'net we want, let's work something out. This is costing us both too much money. And about those Powerpuff cards...I could care less about 'em. They might still be scarce after we finish dumping those five cases on the market, but they're still modern crap. They're all yours."

That I didn't care about them? That, dear reader, is the biggest lie of all. Those cards are never leaving my possession.


* * * * * * * *


Jackson swallows it, hook, line and sinker. His hands begin to shake in anticipation. He asks me breathlessly, "Are all six of 'em here?"

"No. Just one. I told Jacobs you'd insist on checking it out to see if it's legit."

"I don't have my little black bag."

The tools of the trade for us experts in unopened material. Magnifiers, calipers, small but accurate scales. All used to see if something is the right size, weight, thickness. A slight discrepancy can indicate tampering. I tell him to use mine, and I go get it and bring it to him.

Then we are off to my special storage room in my basement. It is the last door Thomas Wentworth Jackson will walk through.




Most of the rest of my plan I don't even have to plan. The means lay already there and I have but to use them.

My house is very large, one of the largest in my exclusive suburban neighborhood. It is also on one floor, therefore, by necessity, the basement is also large. It is, in fact, almost the same square footage as the upstairs. My collection occupies half of it. This is one area where I have Jackson beat, and his astonishment as he sees it gives me great pleasure and a slight twinge of sympathy. But not enough to change my mind, because the first thing he'll do if I spare him is outdo me once again.

It is a technological marvel, and my utility bills prove it. A separate heating and cooling system controls the climate of each of the different areas, as well as humidifiers or dehumidifiers, depending on the material stored within. Regular cards in their albums need only normal conditions and that section is taken care of like the rest of my home. My collection of unopened wax boxes needs a cooler and drier climate. Mildew is the ever-present scourge of all paper-based collectibles. In addition, the vintage material still has (inedible) gum inside. Too warm or moist and the gum sticks to the cards. Too cool or dry and the gum gets brittle and breaks. Packs with a perfect stick of gum (you can feel a broken one by touch through the wrapper) are worth substantially more.

Then there is the room where I keep my cases. They are sealed and the cards better protected from the elements to begin with. I wrap them in layers of plastic to protect them further, making them basically vacuum-packed. I go one step further by making the room itself a vacuum. A built-in ventilation system allows me to empty the room of its air, and fill it when I go inside. It is essentially a refrigerator. Heavy insulation prevents condensation on the inside walls. There is also a large window of heavy insulated glass in the very heavy steel door that locks from the outside. I keep this storage room at a constant temperature of 60 degrees, but I can raise or lower it at will. Cold won't hurt the cards inside, so long as they are warmed slowly to prevent condensation inside the packs.

All of it is backed up with redundancies and hooked to a powerful generator, should there be a power failure. And I control all of it with timers and by remote control from the comfort of my bedroom suite. Of course, the whole downstairs complex is electronically monitored, and I can view any part of it on the nine small screens built into one bedroom wall. Yes, I know my stuff...

It is to my case room that I lead my unsuspecting victim. He scarcely notices the million-dollar collection of rare cases that sit on stainless-steel shelving. His eyes go directly to the box sitting on my sorting table in the middle of the room. It's a large oak table with a comfortable leather swivel chair. Plastic sorting trays for breaking down cases into sets sit farthest away from the chair. I bust open an occasional case of something cheap just for the sheer fun of it.

Jackson knows the contents of this case will never touch that sorting equipment. He walks slowly up to the table and gently rests my black bag upon it. He stares at the case for a long moment, then tentatively reaches out a hand, as if he's afraid the movement will cause the mirage to disappear.

He is bent over, running his hands gently, lovingly, across the unblemished corners and smooth side panels. He examines the tape seal and seems satisfied it's genuine. I know he will give it a closer look.

His activities stir jealousy within me, that he has his grubby hands on what is mine. But I mustn't show it. I clear my throat. "I think I should leave the two of you alone." I say with a bemusement I don't feel.

He grins up at me. "Beautiful, isn't she?"

"Yeah, well...Tom, I have some paperwork to catch up on, so you go ahead and look it over all you want. I'll come back in an hour or so."

I know he will have no trouble passing an hour with the object of his desire. I have done so with it more than once. I begin to leave and I turn, look up at the small wall thermometer and say, "I like to keep the temperature in here constant. It's already going up with the door open like this, so I'm going to have to shut you in." His eyes never move from the table as he says, "Yeah, whatever.", and he doesn't react to the sound of the door's locking mechanism.

I hurry to my room. I watch the monitor that shows him still fondling the box on the table. He finally reaches for my bag and takes out the magnifying glass. He is about to begin examining the tape seals for any signs of tampering. He won't find any; this baby went from the dealer to the buyer's car to that pool table. But I don't care what Jackson will find or not find. My hands go to the control panel with its digital readouts of temperature and humidity that bathe my room at night in an eerie red glow. I push a few buttons. In ten minutes, the room Jackson occupies will, slowly, quietly and unnoticed, begin emptying of its air. The temperature will begin to drop, also slowly, to 34 degrees Fahrenheit over a period of 36 hours.

I sit back in my favorite chair to enjoy the show...




He doesn't know I can see and hear everything. The camera and microphone are hidden in an empty box that looks like one of the cases on my shelves. It allows me a wonderful view of the room.

"Heh, filter them out into the market...yeah, right. I'll put those boxes up for auction, all right. And I'll be the winner of every single one of them, no matter how much I have to pay for them. Pelcher can have his money. But I'll have the cards, and those boxes will never see the light of day. Sure, there might be six cases instead of just one, but I'll own all six of them!"

I nearly put my fist through my monitor. The audacity of the man! Why, that's just what I might have done, had there really been six cases. His obsession is greater than mine, too. Well, his is about to end. "Not so fast, Lenny Baxter." I hear myself say.

He feels light-headed at first. He rubs his temples for a moment. Concentrating too hard or getting too emotionally charged up, as his heart has probably been racing the entire time he's been alone with that box of cards. Now he starts to feel short of breath, and I see the look of concern on his face as the tightness in his chest spreads outward. He thinks he's having a heart attack, as his body is being starved for oxygen. The concerned look changes to one of panic as he gets up and goes to the door. He pounds on it, calling my name for help. All at once, the panic gives way to a brief flash of angry suspicion. If I can control the temperature and the humidity, I can control...

"Pelcher! You bastard!!" The anger gives way to pure terror. His eyes bulge out, both at the fright, and because they soon will anyway. The tiny capillaries in his eyeballs will begin to rupture from lack of oxygen before much longer. He stops pounding on the door, knowing the wasted effort it is, and those eyes dart frantically about, searching for something to break through the window glass. Not for escape but for just one gulp of life-sustaining fresh air. There is nothing at all sharp or metallic and no heavy objects...except for...

The case. Thrown with enough force, it might do the job. Rapidly running out of energy as well as oxygen, he hurries to it, struggles to pick it up...and gently sets it back down with an expression of utter defeat. He can't bring himself to do it. What's inside means more to him than his own life. He sags to his knees and rests his head on the table. I see his eyes close, then spring open as he remembers the other cases in the room. He struggles to his feet, his jogging suit now torn open at the neck as if that would somehow make it easier to breathe, and lurches for the shelves. I'm confident he's too weak now to damage anything. Those cases are heavy.

I am thoroughly enjoying this. And I'm not quite finished. I punch a button and speak into the microphone on the control panel. "Jackson! My god, man, are you all right? What's the matter?!"

"Can't breathe..." he whispers hoarsely, and now I get him thinking it's just an accident when I shout, "Hold on, Tom, help's on the way!"

I rush out of the bedroom, taking with me the prop I've selected for my 'piece de resistance' performance. I arrive at the door and throw it open, then close it behind me. Still no air for him, and I won't be in there too long myself...

He is seated on the floor, his back propped up against the second shelf of cases. " me..." he gasps, his eyes bulging out. His face and hands are already turning a bluish color. I take several steps toward him and raise my prop, a toy Fisher-Price telephone with a laughing clown face. He sees it and the last emotion he experiences is a bewildered horror that will remain frozen on his face.

I push the toy's big red nose and say, "Fear not, Tommy, help is on the way. That is, if the Powerpuff Girls answer the hotline!"

My laughter fills the room and I swear that for all the world, it sounds like Mojo Jojo.




The deed is done. The lifeless body of the late Thomas Wentworth Jackson sits there staring blankly at me. There is much to do but instead of getting to it, I pull out the chair, sit and stare back, reflecting on what I have brought about. Now he stares at the open doorway, and I off into the deep crevices of my mind.

My actions will lead to some pleasant side benefits I had never considered. I will get to enjoy the news coverage of his sudden disappearance, the search for the missing man and after enough time has gone by to lead them to believe he's dead, the search for his body. I will really enjoy watching his auction feedback, perfect so far, begin to take hits as he never responds to auctions he won or will win in the next week. Never again will I be outbid for something by twj55. And, best of all, at some point down the road, his grief-stricken widow (or maybe not, when she sees the check), just might turn to the other local expert to help liquidate the husband's collection. Everything he denied me will be right there for the picking.

I had never considered any of that except for stopping him from outbidding me. And there is one other thing I had never considered, but when I think of it, it begins to appeal to me more and more, to the point that I am obsessed with making it happen.

I had planned to dispose of the body as soon afterward as possible. But, as I think about the whole set-up, and what had lured him here...the case of Series 2 is something he wanted every bit as much as I did. More, actually. Why not let him enjoy it? It strikes me as poetic justice to let the man lie within easy reach of what he desired so badly, yet have it remain forever out of that reach. The case is mine and it isn't going anywhere, along with any of my other prized items. And now, I have the one thing that Thomas Wentworth Jackson valued about as much as anything except for that case...the body of Thomas Wentworth Jackson.

Welcome to my collection, Tommy!


* * * * * * * *


Now it's time to go to work. Though unplanned, this new twist will work just fine with minimal effort. First, I drag the body over to the floor drains (that are found in every room in case the basement should ever flood). Next I undress it. Then, using the crash course in the mortuary sciences that I got online and at the library, I drain the body of its fluids. I inject embalming fluid, which will help kill much of the bacteria inside. I wash the body with germicidal soap, then I launder the clothes and redress it. I make sure any fluids are completely washed down the drains and, using some Luminol I won't say where I got, repeatedly check to see if any trace of blood remains until none does. I am satisfied with my work. And all of it is performed while wearing a portable oxygen tank, so that I may work in as airless and germ-free an environment as possible. The temperature has continued to drop, just as planned, and will hold at 34 degrees. I set the humidity level at 5%. What moisture remains in the body will be sucked out fairly quickly. Finally, I position the body so that it can 'see' the thing it can't touch as it faces the table, and I exit the room, locking the door behind me. Jackson's body, in that airless, dry environment, will essentially mummify. I can still throw it in my untraceable car and ditch it if need be, but I no longer want to do that. He is fine just where he is.


* * * * * * * *


I worry not at all that I will ever be found out. I go about my daily routine of examining patients and doing surgical procedures, along with my staff of two young ophthalmologists who I pay well and keep with the promise of being made partners in my practice eventually. In my spare time, I continue to buy online and privately where I can, and without twj55 to interfere, I'm doing very well.

The news of his disappearance is big news. He never returned home from his run that evening and helpful information is scarce. Nothing is ever said publicly about him getting into a car. I do expect an investigation, as it looks more and more like foul play and less that of someone who just decided to run away from his life. That investigation should rightfully include a look into every aspect of the man's life, including his dealings and with whom. The phone call I get from the police, about some questions they would like to ask me, doen't surprise me and I am quite prepared.

I offer to have them come to my home but a trip to headquarters, at my convenience, will be fine. There is no urgency. All they want from me is general information about the collecting hobby and about any dealings we may have had with each other. I give them some.

I'm told they suspected kidnapping at first, but no ransom note has surfaced as of yet. I tell them it's probably a street crime, and when he is found he will have been robbed. They agree.

Then I say, "You know, if anyone in our hobby is a suspect, I should be at the top of the list." I explain how Jackson had beaten me often.

"We know." I am told. They have already looked at all of his records, including emails. I wisely had never responded in kind to any of his 'tough luck' pokes. "You aren't the only veteran collector he did that to, and everyone we've talked to says it's part of the game."

"Yes, it is." I agree. "But I have to be the only one living in the same town. You guys sure you don't want to come check my basement for a dead body?"

They laugh and thank me for my cooperation. I solemnly wish them luck and express my hope that Mr. Jackson will turn up safe and sound. His death would be a tragic loss, indeed. I go home and don't hear from the police again.

Once there, the first thing I do is go downstairs to have a look at my newest acquisition. A tiny part of me is disquieted by the thought that perhaps my rival never did what he did with any personal malice toward me. I reject it instantly and go upstairs. 'The Powerpuff Girls' are coming on.




Months pass. I am still collecting, but I haven't bought a single vintage item in over a month. There just isn't time. My Powerpuff obsession has taken over.

I watch the show religiously. I have every episode on tape or DVD and watch them over and over. But something odd is happening. More and more I find myself siding with the villains. It bothers me that they always lose. My favorite episodes are becoming the ones where the obnoxious little tykes (my, how my views have changed) demonstrate a failing of some kind. My favorite episode is the one where they are evil in an alternate universe and Mojo Jojo is the good guy *. My least favorites are the ones that show them all cute and cuddly and the ones where one of the bad guys really doesn't deserve the pounding he gets, like Rainbow in Mime For A Change and Mojo in Candy Is Dandy. But my least favorite of all is The Rowdyruff Boys. It absolutely tears my heart out to see those poor boys so cruelly destroyed. They never had a chance. I've come to think of them fondly, and of myself almost as their father figure.

This has carried over to my collecting. I now spend every available minute of my searching time chasing after Powerpuff villain-related collectibles. There isn't all that much. I have all of the plushes and action figures that were ever released, including the ultra-rare HIM doll with flashing laser eyes and claws that open and close. Eighty percent of the villain stuff is Mojo and most of it is easy to get. There isn't anything left that I want that I don't have, though there is plenty of cheap junk that I wouldn't touch. Sadly, there isn't much Rowdyruff merchandise to get, except for some bootleg items and I have all of those that are worth having. But my desire to collect them is a furious one. The only real outlet for that is the trading cards. I've got two cases of each series stashed away (yes, another case of Series 2 surfaced, just like I knew it would...and twj55 would have outbid me). The few regular RRB cards, which were only in the early series', aren't worth much and you don't see them offered. I get them by writing or emailing dealers directly and buying what they have for three times 'book'. The 'V-7' cards, however...

I have made it my goal to get every one of them I can find, no matter the condition. I've already bought over a hundred of them. Is it to 'corner the market' on them and drive up the price? No, though my activity has already done that to prices. I buy them to keep the Boys all to myself, to protect them from those who aren't worthy to have them. The thought sickens me that some military wannabe-type is sitting in the cramped living room of his roach-infested Bronx tenement building, staring at my Boys. I detest the fansites (that have them in love with those awful Girls) and only surf them to see what rare collectibles there are that I don't know about.

That second case of Series 2 sits with its twin, right where Tommy can see them. There are 3 or 4 'V-7's that will never be touched by grimy paws. But I seldom go look at them, or him, anymore. Knowing they are there is enough, and I can always see them on my bedroom monitors.

Why don't I go? It's started to bother me. I feel 'Them' watching me when I'm down there, and it gives me the creeps. Who is 'Them'? Why, the Powerpuff Girls, of course.

This is mainly why I have grown to despise them. When I watch them on the show, their eyes seem to be looking directly at me. I can't watch Equal Fights anymore because of it. I always hear Blossom saying, "We saw what you did, Dr. Pelcher!" I feel like it is my head she wants to melt when she disfigures that unlucky toy.

When I get up to leave the room, their eyes follow me. The same thing happens while I'm working on the card sets. Finally, I have to pull all of the cards with the Girls on them out of the plastic sheets. They are starting to drive me nuts. To get even, I throw all of Buttercup's cards in the bathtub and soak with plenty of bubble bath before tossing them in the trash, and Bubbles' I put in a shoebox and seal the lid on tightly before burying it in the broom closet. A nice, dark place. Serves them right. For Blossom, the one I feel is out to get me the most, I have something very special. I remember the day in my office a little girl pointed at me and asked her mother, "Mommy, why does the doctor have a squirrel on his head?" Now, that kid has Blossom's face. I take her cards and stuff them in the drawer with all my old, worn hairpieces. Give her a few 'bad hair' days, heh heh.

The cards with all three of them on, I haven't figured out a suitable punishment for yet. If I still rode a bike I'd put them in the spokes.

I need to do something with them soon. I feel as threatened as I'm sure my poor Boys must have felt.




My obsession is starting to get out of control, I think. Everywhere I go, whatever I'm doing, something reminds me of the show. I find myself starting to think in dialogue from episodes and it sometimes finds its way into my spoken thoughts. I'm starting to draw weird looks from people. For instance, a patient asks me what my true opinion is of our area, which is seeing an economic downturn, and I find myself saying, "The city of Clarksville...a city that can take a licking and keep on ticking." I'm sure it's my own voice but to me, it feels like the Narrator is inside my head, looking out.

Little girls now make me nervous and I turn them over to my two younger assistants. I find myself increasingly distracted in the office and turning more of my surgical duties over to them as well. I no longer trust myself. My hands have developed a slight tremor. I want to be home, where I can think my thoughts without the outside world intruding. I know this is not healthy. Yet watch the show I still do.

I'm watching Slumbering With The Enemy. I'm watching the sequence where those little brats are trashing the professor's laboratory, looking for Mojo/Mojesha. Blossom says, "Yeah, he...I mean, she's up to something." To my utter shock, the professor points and says, "Oh, like hiding behind the body in Dr. Pelcher's basement?"

I rewind the tape and this time, he says what he's supposed to say...but I can't take it. I turn it off, down a couple shots of good Kentucky bourbon and get in bed, too creeped out to look at my monitor. It's not Jackson's body being down there that bothers me. I don't know what it is, exactly. This damned cartoon show seems to be taking over my brain, but I can't make myself stop watching.

While answering emails from people I buy from, I find myself getting annoyed with the fees some of them are charging and am glad I read my responses a second time before sending. More often than not, they are sounding like one of Mojo's rants:

"You expect me to pay for shipping an amount that is two times what I am paying for the item that is being shipped for this excessive amount? I will not pay it, therefore I am refusing to send you money." And I hear his voice in my head the whole time I'm typing. I shake my head, delete the whole thing and type, 'Thanks, I'll get that right out."

Things finally reach the breaking point. I am sitting in my office, unable to concentrate, and appointments are running behind. I hear one man out in the waiting area threatening to leave. The receptionist gets him calmed down, then comes in my office to see what the holdup is. I tell her I'll be out for Mr. Whoever in five minutes. Then my mind goes back to wandering. I am having an argument with Mojo about ways to destroy the Powerpuffs. I am winning, because I am good at evil plots and Mojo is...well...not really real. When I hear the ruckus, I come to my senses and the clock tells me a half-hour has passed. The man is standing outside my door.

"You said five minutes! Hey, he's in there talking to himself! I'm outta here!"

I hear the main office door slamming shut. I hurry out the private door to my office that goes directly to the corridor of my one-story building, and call out to the angry man's back, "Wait! Wait, come back! I'll make my flapjacks cheaper!"

My voice rises on every word. The man turns, looks, and then runs down the hall to get away from me. Both assistants and the receptionist run out into the hall. Am I all right?, they ask. I say no, that I'm not feeling well, and ask my assistants to take what appointments I have for the next week that they can handle, and to reschedule the rest. And I can no longer hear what my own voice sounds like anymore. I drive home, afraid that I will see a tri-colored streak around the next corner, with a growing feeling of impending doom.


* * * * * * * *


I wake in the middle of the night. Actually, I have been awake but don't realize it. I find myself standing in my workshop, holding an older version of one of my surgical lasers, one I brought home from the office. And I discover that I have found a way to take care of those remaining cards of the Girls, the ones with all three of them. I am burning holes through their eyes...

Horrified, I throw them down, hurry back to bed and try to go back to sleep. After an ungodly length of time, I do, but my dreams are surreal nightmares. I don't rise until well past noon. I can't go on like this. Something must be done but first I have to figure out what.

In a rare moment of clear thought, I realize that it isn't the show that is doing this to me. It is the guilt over what I have done. I have done something evil. The Powerpuff Girls represent all that is good, so in my mind I have made them the enemy and have aligned myself psychologically with the villains. They have taken over my thoughts and actions. I am blaming the show, when what I should be blaming is the fact that I have had a man's body hidden in my house for months.

I go down to look at it for the first time in over a month. And now it doesn't bother me to be there. Now I know what the problem is. I don't feel guilty for what I did to Jackson. I'd do it again. But something in my mind will never let me watch the show untroubled until the body is gone. Two obsessions cannot peacefully coexist. Which one wins out?

Obviously, the show is the stronger. Tormenting Jackson with leaving him in with my cards now seems like a pretty silly idea. He's not aware of it and never was. I'll always have the cards. Get rid of his body, as was my original intent, and I can go back to watching the show again, just as a cartoon. My life can get back to normal. In fact, my rational part tells me, there will probably be a few more cases of Series 2 popping up at some point. It would be smart to unload the one I had paid too much for, along with some of the Boys' cards.

"No!" another part of me says. "Not the Boys! Never the Boys!"

Okay, not the Boys. First, get rid of the corpse. Then, we'll see how the rest plays out. Relieved, I go back to bed for some much-needed rest and set the alarm for 10 PM. I'll get up then and finish what I started that day almost six months ago. The car and stolen plates are waiting. I know the dumping spot I want. My perfect crime will have a perfect ending.

As I set the alarm, I note with a chuckle that ten o'clock is well past the Girls' bedtime.




Something wakes me up. A noise. It sounds like a giggle and someone snapping their chewing gum. It must be a remnant of a dream, though I don't remember dreaming. The clock tells me it's just after seven. Much too soon. My plan has to happen well after dark. I close my eyes. Then I hear another noise, the sound of something being moved roughly. It is unmistakably coming from downstairs.

I leap from my bed and run to my monitors. All of the temperature and humidity readings are correct. The room containing the body hasn't been breached. I don't bother with the scans, I quietly hurry down there, ready to call the police on my cell phone. Some young punks have broken in, just like I was always afraid of. They couldn't get at my cases, but there is plenty other valuable stuff they could be out the window with in seconds.

Grimly, I note that I can't call the cops. I go to the living room and grab the poker from my fireplace. I start down the basement stairs softly, hearing nothing. I feel no draft from an open window. The room where all my sets are stored is undisturbed. So is the wax box room. I must have been hearing things. I'm almost to my case room when I really do hear something. Upstairs, I hear heavy pounding on my door and my name being called.

"Dr. Pelcher? It's the police. Are you all right in there?"

I drop the poker, almost on my foot. The police! Here, at my house? I have to get rid of them! All I can think of is that my associates are worried about me and have asked the cops to check on me. If I don't get up there fast, they'll break my door down. If I don't act as though nothing is out of the ordinary, they might grow suspicious. Great. How does a 53 year old man run up his stairs and not be out of breath? I have no choice, though.

I turn away and out of the corner of my eye I see something horrid. Through the glass window in the door, I can see that Jackson's mummified remains have fallen over. That is the noise I heard, then. But that is not what's horrid. It just stopped me long enough to see the rest.

My cards. My treasured cases of Series 2 with my dear, pristine condition Boys inside...they are gone.

All thoughts of the police swept aside, I lunge for the door and unlock it. I burst inside. There, in one corner, are the two empty cardboard boxes. They are filled with the pack wrappers. To my complete horror, every single pack has been opened!

Someone has neatly piled stacks of cards on the floor. A very organized person has made sets out of them all. The leftovers are still in my sorting tray on the floor. The inserts are all stacked in one pile. Except for...

I nearly pass out. There on the floor, beneath the table, sit the remnants of the three 'V-7' cards that were inside the two cases. Remnants, I say, because my beloved Boys have been savagely torn in half and flung. I pick up half of one and tears spring to my eyes. Two holes have been lasered through Butch's eyes. All three cards are like this.

I never even hear the police breaking down my door and thundering down the stairs upon hearing my screams of agony. I'm sure they are calling out my name, but I don't hear that, either. I am on my knees, holding my dear Boys, destroyed once more, to my chest. I finally do hear the cops. One says, "Holy Christmas, that's Tom Jackson!" I hear them telling me I'm under arrest. I hear them reading me my rights. I feel my arms being wrenched behind my back and the cuffs being slapped on. I care not at all.

All I care about is who could have done this. The unmistakable odor of bubble gum fills the room. Modern-day trading cards don't come with gum anymore. My eyes fly to the back of the room. My remaining treasures, my vintage cases, all of them...opened. Decades-old gum lies strewn about amongst wrappers and cards, carelessly tossed aside in the search for gum. Again, I hear that giggle and the sound of a bubble popping, sounds that I'm certain only I can hear. I have gotten my answer.

I am being dragged backwards now, to see my home and my collection for the last time before I am eventually sent to live at the Clarksville Home for the Criminally Insane. Watching that everlasting horror shrink from my view, I shout out in a voice that is loud, piercing and finally, once again, my own.




* This episode does not yet exist but is rumored to the upcoming Deja View.

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