The Scrutiny of the Shady Sherpa

The Simmons needed a champion, but they got me your friendly neighborhood private investigator.  I get drawn into people’s stories sometimes simply because I pay attention to the world around me.  I met the Simmons while I was doing some surveillance at a cheap chain motel.

No-tell motel cases are not my favorite but they pay the bills.  I had been in this parking lot all night and I was just wrapping up the surveillance of the lustful couple, I got their comings and goings and a licentious kiss from the cheating spouse to the person he was stepping out with.

I was packing up my camera when I first noticed Mr. Simmons, he was pacing the parking lot, yelling on his phone.  It was a Saturday morning and I could hear him talking about being cheated.  I listened, I could not help it, he said things that piqued my interest. He said Disney World many times and all the windows were down as my AC was still not working properly.  And by properly, I mean at all, it did not blow cold, it did not blow hot, it did not even make a sound when I turned it on.

So here was a person in need so I offered my help concerning Disney.

“Having a bit of problem sir?”  I said leaning against my car and offering him a stick of gum after he hung up the phone.

“Yeah, you could say that.”  He said taking the Juicy Fruit.

The next twenty minutes were a tale of a man working hard to take his family on vacation.  How they had searched for a deal and thought they had found it.  Sending in a deposit and thinking that the tickets would be waiting for them at the motel when they arrived last night.  They weren’t.

Now when you have an attraction as big, and as mind numbingly successful as Walt Disney World you are going to have secondary business.  Some of the hotel chains have partnered with the Disney Company in what is called the Good Neighbor Partners, with buses to and from the parks and other special deals.  There are also cheap clones and watered-down copycats, these are unavoidable and ultimately accepted.

But wise old Walt Disney wanted to keep the outside world as far as possible from his new vision.  Walt hated the neon and concrete sprawl that grew outside of Disneyland.  He hated, and I mean hated with a capital H anyone tampering with his vision.  When buying the land in Florida at one point Roy, the financial mastermind and equal partner to Walt asked, “Isn’t that enough land?” Walt turned to his older, more grounded, more economically savvy brother and said. “How much would you love to own the land around Disneyland right now?” Roy thought it over for a whole second and replied, “I’ll get money for more land.”

But the borders of Disney World have to stop somewhere so Route 192 and International Drive grew, the whole concrete jungle, hotels, motels, chain restaurants, gas stations, and so forth.  All good, all legitimate businesses.

And then there are the scavengers, the scroungers, the vultures, and the predators.  Those who take advantage of others, more like leeches and ticks, parasitic blood suckers.  I am sure outside of the Colosseum in ancient Rome there were hucksters, con men and swindlers selling fake tickets and cheap gladiator merchandise.  The same is true for the most magical place on Earth.  Unfortunately, the Simmons family had fallen for it.

W.C. Fields the movie star and juggler said, “You can’t cheat an honest man.”  Now I hate to contradict the great juggler but I disagree, a good honest man trying to do right thinks others are as honest as he is.

The Simmons had traveled down from Alabama after buying discount tickets online from a company called Sherpa Services.  They even talked to a nice lady over the phone who assured him the tickets would be waiting for them.  After driving nine hours they arrived and no tickets.  This began a series of phone calls to the agency, meeting with no response, followed by repeated attempts this morning, then a phone call to the Better Business Bureau, Disney itself and finally the police. At the culmination of the calls entered the friendly neighborhood private investigator.

No one could help them or at least not in a timely manner that would save the family trip. Now I have no special pull with Disney, they do their thing, I do mine and I try to never cross any lines, I do not even advertise that I work cases on Disney property, just word gets around that it’s my specialty.

But I knew Disney and Universal hated scammers like this and would do what they could to stop them.  The parks would rather get money directly from consumers themselves and then they would provide the best product available for the money.  Things like this splashed mud on their image. Not good for business.  But they were limited in what they could do.  The same with local law enforcement.  It boiled down to ‘caveat emptor’ or let the buyer beware.

That was not going to help the Simmons.  So, I called a friend, a travel agent who knew the tourist trade in Orlando better than I did.  He set them up with cheap passes for Sea World. No castle but some jumping fish so not terrible. While my friend took care of the Simmons, I started hunting a villain.

My first stop, well multiple stops was to the scam booths along Route 192 and International Drive.  These are small kiosks usually outside of large chain food places or much larger stores, they take up about three parking spaces and have bright Disney like lettering in neon colors advertising rock bottom prices of park tickets.  They sell Universal, Disney and other attraction tickets at prices below regular walk up to the gate prices.

This makes absolutely no profitable sense.  They will tell you it’s because they buy in bulk, don’t believe them.

“Hey, I am looking for some tickets, how much to go to Animal Kingdom today?”

“How many people sir?”

“Ah just me and the wife, she is shopping.”  I said, motioning towards the souvenir shop across the parking lot.

“Right sir.”  He did something on his computer.  Probably checking on Facebook and nothing to do with this transaction.  “We have a special right now, two tickets, for one Disney parks.”  He then quoted me a price that was half the price for a ticket.”

“That sounds great.”  I said, “getting out my wallet.

Then he spoke again. “For another twenty dollars I can upgrade to a park hopper so if you get tired of the Animal Kingdom you can go to another park, the Magic Kingdom is open late tonight.”

I thought, ‘This guy is good.’  Yeah, the Magic Kingdom was open late tonight, but only for a special event, and regular guests would have to leave at seven p.m.  That is when I saw a bundles of pizza fliers on the counter with two words that leapt off the paper at me.

Paydirt.  Pizza fliers are slipped under hotel room doors.  The scheme goes something like this. You come back from a long day in the parks, tired, hungry, and lo and behold a pizza coupon is right there for you.  One large pies and a two liter of soda for a great price.  You call, you say you have a coupon and they offer to take your credit card number.  They take it and no pizza ever arrives, now you are hungrier, someone is charging gift cards up on your credit card and your day is ending badly.  Sometimes while slipping pizza fliers under the door, they see if it is open so can do a quick heist of whatever is handy.  I needed to distract this guy.

“Hey what you got for Universal, I think I would rather ride some roller coasters than see the Lion King.”  He went back to the computer and I surreptitiously snatched the paper order form that was wrapped around a stack of fliers.

I smiled at my luck probably more than I should have and  the guy looked at where I had been looking, the pizza flier stack and realized that there was something off about them and me.

He squinted his eyes and I lost my poker face for just a second.  That is when he knew that I knew that he knew I was not a regular tourist looking for a cheap deal.

“Get out.”  He said sternly.

“What about my tickets?”  I said vainly.

“No sale.  We are closed.” He started to come around the desk.

Now I avoid violence whenever I can.  I am a bit of coward and I was not going to get into a tussle with a guy over a case I was not getting paid for, not that I would get into a scrap for a paycheck, so I just backpedaled out of there and walked around the corner to where my car was parked.  That is when I remembered that no good deed ever goes unpunished.

“Mitchell.”  The woman said with disgust while leaning against my car.


Me and Susan had a long history.  In fact, she is the reason I hate rice pudding.

High school, I am going under protest, but it was better than studying at home for my GED.  It was a negotiation between mother and me.  We both walked away unhappy, which is the art of compromise.

My high school career was as brief as possible, involving me taking as many classes as possible in the shortest time possible. I did not socialize much, my best friend Daniel was at a private school, all my other friends were adults, so I navigated high school mostly alone.  I ate alone, I spent time in the library alone, what I could not do was take classes alone. The one class that forced socializing was Home Economics.  It was one of those phases in education where everyone was required to take Home Economics.  I enjoyed the first half, an easy A plus in sewing, but that was only half of the semester.  The cooking thing was another matter.

Mother never cooked, her seamstress cooked when they worked late, so I was fed. On weekends it was either takeout or leftovers.  So, when the class started, I had to look up the words boil, bake and basting.

Susan was a classmate that hated me, not sure why, it was not the case of she liked me but she couldn’t show it, no she flat out disliked me. Susan was not the head cheerleader but that was her social circle.  I theorized she was just a mean person and I was a target of opportunity.

So, when my portion of the class assignment was to make rice pudding for a meal, I was nervous.  And Susan, the scourge of my existence sabotaged me.  Salt in my sugar, chili powder in my cinnamon.  It presented well, but taste is what failed me, I escaped with a C average.

The rest of high school I avoided Susan as much as possible but she threw digs at me whenever she could.  She attempted to be the bane of my existence but it’s hard to terrorize an invisible man.  But she always reminded me about the rice pudding when she could.

She was now a Detective for the Orange County Sheriff’s Office and we had a few run ins over the years.  I did not mention the rice pudding, but she still had something against me every time we met.

“What are you doing Mitchell looking for rice pudding?”

I played stupid. “Whatever do you mean Susie?”  I threw in the shortening of her name; I mean we were old school chums.

I saw an angry glare cross her eyes.  “We have you at three other kiosks on 192 today what are you up to Miles.”

See, first name basis.

Somehow, I had stumbled into an on-going investigation.  I made a big show of looking around for a surveillance van and I spotted it across the street in a CVS parking lot.

“Cut it out Miles, I need you out of here right now.”

“How about we drive out of here.” She frowned.  “I told the guy in the kiosk my wife was in the store, so you would keep my story intact, plus I have something you may want.”

She scowled. “You got nothing Mitchell.”

“Oh, you might like this.” I said covertly showing her the piece of paper I acquired from the stack of pizza fliers.

She studied it then simply stated.  “Okay drive.”

A few minutes later we were behind the pharmacy after taking a circuitous route in my very noticeable  station wagon.  Waiting for us there was a young guy that had to be F.B.I. I mean his khakis and golf shirt and unbuttoned jacket just screamed G-Man.  After a second appraisal I decided he must be a Junior G-Man, he couldn’t be more than a couple weeks out of the F.B.I Academy.

“Okay Miles lets have the paper.”

“Wait.” The federale said.  “This was obtained without a warrant we cannot use it.”

I disagreed with him. “No, I as a private citizen obtained this before I knew of any investigation, so therefore I am not your stalking horse.  An ordinary citizen provided information to law enforcement if you find it useful then all well and good.”

The FBI Agent thought this over and Susan simply nodded and she spoke up. “As much as I hate to admit it, Miles is right, I thought all you F.B.I. guys were lawyers?”

Eliot Ness Jr. shrugged. “I am an accountant.  Okay let’s see it.”

I spread the paper out on my car hood. It was an order form detailing how many pizza fliers had been made and it gave a partial credit card number and the name of the business.  Yep, you guessed it friends ‘Sherpa Services.’

The name on the order meant something to Susan and the J. Edgar wannabe.  That is when I explained what I had been doing all morning and they shared, without any details that they recognized the partial credit card number.  The receipt also had a small proof of the pizza flier with a phone number on it, which they also recognized.

“We got them.”  Susan said. Things started moving fast after that. Words were thrown around like ‘on going conspiracy,’ ‘RICCO Act’ and ‘Use of electronic communication devices across state lines.’  I had to explain how I got entangled in all this.  Some Special Agent In Charge gave me the side eye as he read my statement, but when his Junior G-Man appeared with a search warrant he was happier than J. Edgar Hoover at a dress fitting.

I thought my part was done, but Susan told me to stick around.  She made up some excuse that it was in case they had more questions and to keep me from bumbling around with my own investigation and messing up their operation.  Personally, I think she just like inconveniencing me.

I did get to sit in a surveillance van but I did not get to play with any of the cool toys. But I did get to drink lukewarm coffee with a surly old Special Agent.  If you squinted at her and titled your head, she looked like Jodie Foster.  Clarice Starling did let me listen on a pair of sweaty headphones to the execution of the aforementioned search warrant.

The search netted all kinds of goodies, RFID scanners, fake credit cards and even some counterfeit money.  This involved my surly Jody Foster looking friend making a fun call to the Secret Service, the guys in charge of counterfeiting.  I sat in the van for hours while they took the people in the house away in handcuffs, and they tallied and tagged evidence.  I asked to leave several times, but Susan nixed that just to tick me off.

But when the team plus me got back to the office late that evening I was told I could go.  But not before a person who did not appear to be a Fed or a Deputy asked me the names of the people who got swindled.  He was not a Law Enforcement Agent, but he carried himself like he had been one once, he walked and talked like someone who moved in that world easily, but the agents and deputies respected him. He handed me an envelope to give the Simmons family without any explanation.

Now I am a curious guy, but the envelope was not addressed to me, so I simply handed it over to Mr. Simmons that night after their day at Sea World. He opened it and there were three tickets for the next day at the Magic Kingdom.  No explanation, no note of any kind.  He hugged me and asked how I got them; I shrugged and made my exit.

Driving down Route 192 in the slightly cooler but still humid Orlando evening I smiled.  I suspect someone from Disney Security had done a bit of magic for a family that would remember this trip for a long time.  I was not going to look into that mystery, no need to investigate happily ever after.

For More Miles Mitchell Mysteries

The Flat Earth Case

The Shady Sherpa Case

The Turnaround Case

How High Is Up

The Case of the Unhappy Camper 

The Case of the Unhappy Camper -Audio Version 

The Photos To Die For Case

The Case of the Misplaced Ice Thingy 

The Case of the Distrustful Defensive Defender


Categories: Outrageous Lies and Tales, A Miles Mitchell Story

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