THE BLING TOE RING
Google claims the average American woman owns 19 pairs of shoes. How long would it take for her to notice if one of them went missing? Maybe a day or two if it’s the casual pair that feels comfortable but looks cute. Depending on her social life it might take months for her to notice the formal scarpin heels were gone. My first call to the case was answering a routine call from a Paris Hilton-type about a home invasion. She knew someone had broken into her house because by accident a person in her team decided to review the week’s security tape and caught the perpetrator entering and leaving the residence. At a first glance, you would assume he did not touch a thing, but the exit video revealed a bag under his arm, and so started the hunt
With a hat and sunglasses, he managed to avoid every direct camera angle. So, what could the faceless men be carrying? Quickly we realized it couldn’t be worth much, at least not financially, since the inventory showed none of the valuables were gone. A deeper look revealed that the only thing missing was an old pair of Louboutins. “It’s either that or my sister borrowed them and is now denying to not have to return them.” Claimed the victim. Logically the Louboutins made sense and didn’t. The pair of shoes were the perfect size and shape for the bag captured in the video. But a brand-new pair of a similar model could be found online for just under two thousand dollars. Who breaks into a house for way less than two grand, since according to the report, the shoes were already four years old.
“I didn’t realize that was what was missing at first, because I’m embarrassed to admit I still even had that pair.”
After a few dead leads, three days later I shelved the case as just another weird and creepy incident with not enough evidence to get a resolution. Not solving a case always upset me, even if the stakes were worn-out shoes. But with so many more dangerous and relevant crimes happening around Los Angeles, I couldn’t give any more attention to such an insignificant occurrence. That is until a week after the date of the crime when the victim’s assistant called to inform the peculiar detail she had been informed of: the maid was doing the house’s laundry when she noticed that amongst ten days’ worth of dirty clothes, there was not a single sock.
There are quite a few outlandish reasons I could come up with to explain why someone breaks into a house to steal a pair of shoes. The robber is a collector and despite the lack of value, the shoe was a missing piece to their collection. The victim forgot to mention that instead of money under the mattress, she kept her fortune hidden in a Bitcoin wallet and the key was written on a post-it taped to the shoes. The robber’s lover accidentally left with his wife’s shoes and now he needed an exact replacement, but since that exact model is no longer being made, he stole some. Hey, even having the US nuclear codes engraved on the red soles is a possibility. Unlikely, but a possibility, nonetheless. But now, why would they also take a bunch of dirty cotton socks? That makes no sense. Or at least made no sense, until I described the case to my wife, and she reacted, “Huh. To each pervert their own.”
When I am really horny, the furthest I’ll go is to bother my wife for about ten minutes, until she either gives in or firmly shuts me down. If the inquietude persists, I’ll go to the bathroom and take care of things. But in most cases, I’m too lazy to even get up and go to the bathroom, it’s easier to roll around and fall asleep. Breaking and entering alone could be up to three years. That seemed like a lot of risk, and more astonishing, a lot of work, for somebody to go just to get off. I went back to the house and searched for clues again. My number one question was whether any of the clean socks were missing. It was hard to tell as most people can’t enumerate every pair of socks they own, but the drawer seemed untouched.
At this point, even the victim was feeling done with this whole situation. She did not care about recouping the shoes, all she wanted was to feel safe in her house again. Lucky for me, and unlucky for her, Kate Beckinsale experienced a similar situation: someone broke into her house and stole non-valuable items: Gucci slippers, a pair of stilettos, and an Ugg boot, which she claimed she was only keeping, “ironically. I know it’s not 2010 anymore.” It seemed like the same guy, but only one thing could give me certainty: the hamper! The only problem is that the maid had done laundry earlier that day, so during the time of the robbery the hamper was empty except for one of those diaper-looking period underwear.
Again, lacking evidence, I did not feel like this was worth the time and the resources of the department, but being a huge Kate Beckinsale fan, my Captain insisted I stayed vigilant. Personally, I felt like it was unprofessional for him to do so just to maybe get on Mrs. Beckinsale’s Christmas card list. If I’m pulling some strings that will cost the taxpayer a few thousand dollars, it better at least be for someone like Angelina Jolie. Either way, I talked to some of the staff from her house and the surrounding properties, but the criminal acted fast. He managed to not have his face on camera again, he showed up out of nowhere and was in and out in a matter of minutes. The possibility of an inside job crossed my mind given the precision of the assailant but cross-referencing a list of people with access to both houses led nowhere.
So again, I was back to square one, but this time I had the expectation of solving this case. The two crimes happened twelve days apart. The possibility that the invader was doing it for a resale purpose and not for his own personal pleasure, crossed my mind. However, my own estimate through the tapes placed the man at five-four, or five-five. Five six on a good day. With that point of view, it seemed fair to deduce he likely had a foot fetish. As a six-two guy myself, I have to admit a woman’s hair is one of the first things I notice. Quentin, as I nicknamed the mysterious criminal, was wearing an all-black shirt, all-black pants, black boots, and white socks–establishing that his fetish was only towards the female feet, as he had no sense of style. The two crimes happened at completely different times of the day, and the social media star lived in Brentwood, while Kate and her actual talent only afforded the Valley.
“Maybe you should photograph Kate’s feet and see if anything comes out of it,” suggested the Captain.
“You mean, photograph both victims’ feet and see if there are any similarities there?” I asked.
“Yeah, sure. Just remember to put the photos on my desk. I might be able to see something you don’t.”
And with that I had the pleasure to have an awkward conversation with both ladies’ assistants, asking to schedule a photo shoot of their walkers. The Paris Hilton-type asked, “how much does it pay?” and when I said it was for her own benefit, she responded, “I’m not falling for that again. I spent so much money with my lawyers to destroy those tapes.” But eventually, she agreed after I promised that if the photos were ever shared on the force’s social media for any reason, she would be tagged in them.
The hard part was actually getting the forensic photographer to take decent photos. He kept complaining, “these feet have too much color!” But after four hours at each house, and a long argument with the talent about how feet makeup would only ruin the purpose of the photos, I had sixty pics of each of the feet of each lady. Every possible angle was covered, and the Captain was pretty happy about it, “Great job! Now leave me alone so I can analyze these.”
My personal conclusion was that they both had similar arches, but everything else was different. One had crooked toes, the other had semi-freckles on only the right foot, and they both claimed they changed nail polish color constantly. It felt like a lost cause but given how the high arches were the only similarity, I clung to that. Maybe I could predict a possible future break-in.
Soon I was sending every talent agency in town a casting call asking for actresses with “A high arch, but not to the point of a Cavus Foot disease. Can you step on a hot dog and keep your toes and heels on the floor? Then, we’re looking for you!” The agency CAA pushed every one of their actresses to respond, but after a couple of days, the only one to show interest was Kim Basinger. My plan was to put together a foot database and try to predict who, if any, would be the next victim went down the drain. Although Mrs. Basinger did offer that for some spare change, we could even eat our lunch off her feet. An offer I obviously rejected due to my wife packing me soup that day.
The case was dying down again. The worst part was that after spending days staring at foot photographs and studying whatever I could about them, I lost one of the things I hold dearest to my heart: the satisfaction of getting home after a long day at work and kicking the shoes and socks off my feet. I was getting so tired of looking at feet that I started to become one of those freaks that keep socks on at all times: lounging in the house; making love to my wife – which she didn’t like as I looked like I had “given up on us. Given up on life”; and even to sleep – which she did appreciate as my “Inuit feet” would no longer give her hypothermia under the blankets. I’ve always had cold feet in life, and I was starting to have cold feet about ever solving this case. Twelve days had passed, and no new break-ins that fit the profile had been reported. Plenty of other break-ins, all with more valuable property stolen, but the Captain insisted I solve this.
The case was literally boring me out of my feet. To pass the time I found this website that showed two celebrities’ feet side by side, and you voted on which was the prettiest. You could also see the overall ranking and check what the masses were saying. According to the website, Emma Watson has the prettiest feet in the celebrity world. I placed a patrol car in front of her house just to be sure. Personally, I did not care about the website, but seeing as Angelina Jolie was ranking in 86th place, I spent most of my days voting for her. The photo they had of her feet on the site wasn’t that good, her ring toe had gotten stuck over the middle toe as she walked down the red carpet, so she looked deformed. But I didn’t care, because I had seen the movie Wanted, which is enough proof that Angelina Jolie is the best actress to ever walk this Earth.
And that’s when my lucky break came. Megan Fox reported a breaking and entering. A pair of those Balenciaga Sneakers that look like large socks had been stolen. I felt like it was my duty to tell her that even if we recovered the pair, she should probably trash it and hire one of those Hollywood Stylists. But one with taste enough to recognize what’s pretty and what’s a brand thinking of the ugliest design they can come up with and selling it as “cool” for a thousand percent markup. Additionally, the hamper had no socks left, so bingo! It was Quentin. And Quentin was getting greedy since apparently, he tried to remove one of the bathroom floor tiles. He stayed in the bathroom with a small hammer and pick for about twenty minutes, assuming there was nobody home. Fortunately, one of the cleaners was “not napping” in the back. She finally heard him and managed to scare him off, getting a quick look at his face underneath the hat.
We managed to have a sketch done based on the cleaners’ description, and against my best recommendation, the Captain posted it online. He recognized this could be some needed good PR for the LA Police. So much so that he used all the frenzy the sketch got on Twitter, to partner up with Foot Locker to offer an in-store five hundred dollars gift card to anyone who had any tips that could lead to Quentin’s arrest.
No tips came from the general public, but celebrities did not tiptoe around the issue. Soon enough we were getting plenty of reports from actresses, musicians, comedians, and wannabes who had noticed shoes, socks, and nail polish missing. The items were so minimal that most of them just assumed they had been lost between the Mykonos-Ibiza ambit.
Soon the case was everywhere. People on Twitter started attacking me, calling me incompetent for not solving the investigation. One person even accused me of being the robber, claiming that was why I hadn’t solved the case yet. The internet really believed I was a foot perv. I promptly shut down this conspiracy theory by sharing a photo of my wife’s feet. The point was, I needed to solve the case quickly, but even with all these new reports, there were a ton of tips: mostly french and none useful.
You would assume that after all this public uproar, the criminal would lay low for a while, but he didn’t. The patrol I had set in front of Emma Watson’s house weeks ago, finally proved useful. They captured a short man dressed in all black, wearing a hat, and trying to enter the property through a side gate. He claimed to be one of the gardeners, but nobody from Emma’s team was able to confirm that. They just knew someone showed up weekly to do the job, and they wired the money. A weird situation, but if you saw the azaleas in the back you would understand the system was working.
The suspect’s name was Jerome Pick. He was five-four, stocky, thirty-six years old, and claimed to have a girlfriend, but we did not manage to get her on the phone. Even after we managed to get ahold of the gardening company responsible for Emma’s property and they denied knowing Jerome, he stuck to his story, “I’m just part of the gardening team. I was there to do my job.” But when I asked him how to grow azaleas like that, he didn’t even seem to know they were there. We had him for an attempted break-in, but I needed to make sure this was Quentin, and find a way to connect him to the other crimes.
As I waited on the judge to search this guy’s home, I came up with a solid, evidence-based plan to verify this was the guy. With the help of a high heel gladiator sandal from the evidence room and the goodwill of Officer Samantha Harris, I figured I could stand in the observation room as she walked into the interrogation room. If the first thing he clocked was her feet, it would likely be him.
I set up a camera behind the observation window in case his reaction was too quick, and I needed a replay. With everything ready, I gave Harris the go-ahead. She had been in the force for less than six months, so this was exciting for her. Jerome was slouching on his chair, almost falling asleep, when– Officer Harris opened the door, dressed in the police uniform wearing the gladiator sandals. Most of the stripes up the leg were covered by her pants, but the heels did their job propping her taller, and revealing at least 60% of her feet. She paraded into the room with such confidence that I forgot to look at the suspect, letting my eyes trail her instead. Luckily, I had my footage: he stared at her feet the moment she opened the door and kept the gaze for a solid six seconds until she was halfway to the desk. It was him!
I thanked Officer Harris and recommended undercover work as a prostitute to ambush Johns, to which she mentioned something about HR. At the same time the warrant to Jerome’s house was issued, so I had to leave. She asked to come along, and I authorized, as long as she changed shoes as those high heels were not professional.
We broke the door to his house in the East part of town. Far from pretty much all the 26 victims we had on record. His home looked normal. Especially clean for a man living alone. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Until someone pulled down the door to the attic.
If you’re a woman or a married man, I am certain you have experienced this specific smell in your life. This toxic scent that results from sweaty feet fermenting inside trendy plastic shoes. Even the expensive brands use that one cheap plastic when fabricating their models, resulting in that very characteristic rotten odor. You go into the store and it’s this nice fake aroma from something they add in the making of the plastic, but after two days you might as well walk with a trash bag around your feet. You didn’t even need to walk up the stairs to get a whiff.
Inside the attic, there was probably the most valuable collection of shoes I’d ever seen. A shopaholic would have a party there. Beyond the shoes, there were socks, nail polish, foot cream, and most scary — nail clippings. All the items were properly sealed inside Ziplock bags (yes, the smell permeated through the bag) and cataloged. Some were displayed in front of framed photos presumably of the owner.
There were more stars on these walls than on the walk of fame. Think of the name of somebody who is or was famous, and you could probably find some feet paraphernalia of them. Our list of 26 victims only revealed how most women don’t even notice if a pair of shoes goes missing. Or at least notices, but just assumes they were lost. Lucky for me Officer Harris came along, so I put her on itemize duty, and I left.
I finally cracked the case, and it felt fantastic. It will go down as one of my weirdest cases ever, and one that gave me a lot of media attention. After Jerome was sentenced, the Twitter mob labeled me a hero. I even heard Nike considered doing a partnership to develop my own sneakers, but they felt like associating with the cops was bad PR. Eventually, the dust settled, and I was back to the usual murders and rapes. I still look back at that case fondly.
The last time I heard anything related to it was weeks after we found the foot lair, and Officer Harris had a puzzled look on her face. “It’s just so weird how he had a library management system-like organizational arrangement, allowing us to recover every single item from his list, except a pair of running shoes from Angelina Jolie.”
I told her to let it go. None of the victims wanted the shoes back, and the case had been a win. I insisted she didn’t shoot herself in the foot by living in the past cases, and instead looked ahead.
Gustavo Barbur de Melo (he/him) is a Brazilian satirical writer and graduate of the MFA Screenwriting program at the University of Southern California. His writing has placed in many screenwriting competitions, and as a fiction writer, he is soon to have his debut short story published on Half and One.