Before the insurrection on Halloween, the security guard considered himself an atheist and a cynic, but there are some things too hard to understand, things without precedent, and one of them is a polished ten-inch Colt Python Revolver pointed directly up your nostrils. It wasn’t every day that the Old Liberty Bank was heisted by a group of schoolchildren in matching Catholic school uniforms and black cowl, CEO, and Les Mis masks, appearing out of nowhere like a flash mob, their scrawny forearms barely strong enough to aim their weapons. Indiana wasn’t Sierra Leone after all, but somehow the little bank robbers knew how to click the safety with their thumbs just like child soldiers. The guard knew it was going to be a very long day, even before the first shot was fired.

 

Several hours later, a large clan of white kids in karate uniforms and red headbands raided the local Toys “R” Us, wielding sai swords in the air like religious fanatics in the Bombay Riots. As the police report proved later on, the kids were professionals. They had magical powers that vaporized everything in their path like mushroom clouds, stuffing stolen SpongeBob backpacks with brand new merchandise: Nintendo DSi Lites, Wii games, florescent beach balls, Transformers, plastic chemistry beakers, Pirates of the Caribbean Lego sets, fruit-scented markers, and Notre Dame Monopoly boards. Even their getaway was impressive: a masterpiece of synchronicity using tiny battery-powered ATV’s, Big Wheels, and pedal scooters. By the time the police arrived, the toy store looked like something out of the apocalypse: aisles covered in plastic snakes, Barbie accessories and cat-eye marbles, bright whirling sound tubes and glittery hula-hoops—a sprained ankle at every turn. Eventually the cops found the employees in back tied to a septic pipe with red karate belts and gagged by orange-striped tube socks. Next to seven empty cash registers, they discovered a pile of cell phones on the floor with the SIM cards removed and a heist note that no one noticed until later on in the investigation.

 

Sweet Dreams candy shop was the third place to get hit that night, overflowing with rows and rows of mason jars normally filled with licorice wheels, taffy bow-ties, root beer hard candy, caramel cubes, chocolate plaques, sugar ellipses, rainbow lollipops shaped as magnifying glasses, drill bits, and exotic, glistening fruit-shaped marzipan. When the owner of Sweet Dreams arrived early next morning, there was a supernova in his store window and a half-inflated basketball on the floor covered in fragments of glass and Hoosier-colored jellybeans. The shelves, however, had been wiped clean—a paragon of OCD if ever there was one. The till was missing, of course, and there was a pile of upside down mason jars on the floor now in four columns forming a square. For some inexplicable reason though, the thieves had left all the marshmallow peeps in the window, their sugary beaks staring down the road like silent witnesses.

 

The fourth robbery wasn’t discovered until the next day when the manager of Wal-Mart unlocked the loading garage, his latte cup bouncing from forearm, stomach and crotch to inner thigh and ankle, striping his khakis with steamed milk. He couldn’t believe his eyes: the entire electronics section—every plasma screen, laptop, and digital camera, every single iPod, GPS navigation system, and Wii—was gone, not to mention all the rap CD’s, tortilla chips, and Slim Jim canisters, every pair of LeBron VI’s, the whole shelf of SunnyD, and every Jason Bourne DVD. Simply by making a tally of the merchandise the manager could tell what age the thieves were. He made a call to headquarters in Arkansas, his crotch smelling of steamed milk, when he noticed a note tacked to one of the television boxes. He closed his flip phone, removed his glasses, and pieced together the words—foreign-sounding, lacking verbs, vaguely menacing—before he called the police department. He had a thing or two to tell the sheriff about what would soon be called the Conspiracy of Lemons.

 

The part-time security guard forgot his gun again—it happens—so he stored his cell phone in the holster instead. You can’t tell anyways from a distance, a bulge is a bulge. But when a phalanx of teenagers marched inside the lobby and heisted the bank before his eyes, dressed like the Crazy 88 with guns for swords, he was caught off guard. The guard decided to lunge for one of their Colt Pythons from behind a towering ficus when a freckled girl in a short skirt and mask of the Lehman Brothers CEO blasted him in the foot, shaking her head in disapproval.

The guard howled in pain.

—Don’t touch the gat, she hissed, pointing the gun up his nose.

—Little girl, he said, you don’t wanna do this.

—Hell yes I do, she said, adjusting her mask.

—You can walk away from this right now if you want to.

—Yo, shouted a white boy in a Countrywide CEO mask from an adjacent teller with a horrendous farmer’s tan, —please stop talking or I’ll shoot your other foot, sir.

—Okay, okay, the guard reassured them.

—Listen buddy, the girl said, this isn’t the Iraq War, so we don’t run over civilians on the road.

—Huh?

During their conversation, the tellers moved back and forth between the vault and the getaway bags, feeding hundred dollar bricks to gaping pillowcases until there was enough cold hard cash for them to buy the Neverland Ranch from foreclosure or produce a Hollywood blockbuster with dazzling special effects. Meanwhile, the security guard pushed hard on his foot to make a tourniquet, the blood gurgling up like a stabbed juice box. When the bleeding stopped, he was going to press the emergency response button on his walkie-talkie. He had been waiting his whole career to press that thing.

 

The Muncie police department had never seen so much crime before and what was worse, they had no leads either. The eyewitness testimony was flawed: not a single person—including the sheriff—had gotten a clean look at the bank robbers without their cowl, Les Mis, and CEO masks. Even worse, the Toys “R” Us employees didn’t recognize the karate kids at all, as if they’d come from a secret village underground and the security camera lenses at Walmart, Old Liberty Bank, and Sweet Dreams, had all been spray-painted by a girl with pigtails and Gavroche mask. Another complication, the kids in this area all looked alike. Homogeneity had never been a problem in Muncie, in fact, it had been the easiest (disgusting) way to separate locals from non-locals, but when it came to making positive ID’s for unsolved crime-sprees, homogeneity became your greatest enemy. There was a final snag as well: the Muncie police department had no forensics department and Indianapolis wasn’t sending in their strapped science geeks with the Q-tips and the DNA kits until dead bodies started popping up like spring dandelion clocks. The sheriff had no alternative but to schedule a town hall meeting. So, in the first month in November, he did just that and to his surprise, not a single person showed up, not even the old fogies and they showed up for everything as long as there were snacks. Having no other choice, the sheriff launched an ambitious door-to-door investigation that yielded troubling and contradictory evidence. A hint of conspiracy lingered in the air like stale lemons (hence the name).

 

The manager from Walmart took a cup of coffee from the receptionist at the police station—three cubes of sugar, three dashes of powdered milk—as he waited. The sheriff entered, a chubby balding man with a napkin tucked into his collar and a chuckle dabbed on his rosy cheeks.

—What can I do for you Charlie? he asked, shaking his hand.

—It’s about the Conspiracy of Lemons.

—Oh, that, he said, throwing the napkin on the desk. He sat down.

—Have you seen this? the manager asked, sliding the paper across the desk.

The sheriff scanned the note, a slow confusion accumulating on his face:

Brioche? Demands: Dads. Planet. Class. Bullshit Bomb. Child. Yourselves.

—Where’d you get this? he asked.

—In the loading annex.

—What the hell is brioche anyway?

—Not a clue, maybe a misspelling of brooch?

—Why brooch?

—I think it’s a code.

—Wait, why?

—Terrorists speak in code. Everyone knows that.

—I didn’t know that.

—Maybe it’s time you called the feds. They know all about terrorist codes.

This comment stung the sheriff. He didn’t like the idea of the FBI swooping down on his town and ripping the case out of his hands. It had to do with pride and maybe a little with Federalism. —Alright, well thanks for coming down, Charlie.

—They’re trying to take over this country, he said, standing up.

—Who?

—The Islamofascists.

—Give your wife my regards, he said, standing up and ushering him through the door with a sigh.

 

For the next week, the sheriff and a few of his officers began a charm offensive. They chatted casually with the locals, trying to pry information one door at a time. Unfortunately, every household had a different culprit and theory as to what caused the conspiracy, expanding the number of explanations the department had been trying so hard to narrow down. The Menckens, for example, thought the Conspiracy of Lemons was a question of moral anarchy: how could parents spend time with their kids when they were pushing forty-hour weeks with no benefits, just to pay the bills? There wasn’t enough light of day for family or church time, so it wasn’t a big surprise that kids were learning all the wrong values. They had no one guiding them, no one teaching them Leviticus. And, by the way, the Voses were a bunch of liberal traitors, Mr. Mencken warned, before slamming the door in his face. For the Smiths, both English professors at the university, the problem was the sublimation of material identity, whatever that meant: advertising firms spend millions of dollars trying to inject affluenza into our bloodstreams, deliberately targeting kids because they’re pervious to hero culture, Mr. Smith said, foaming at the mouth. Commercials are cultural propaganda anyway, the foxy Mrs. Smith pointed out, a social mechanism to produce consumers out of thin air by converting our own sense of inadequacy into a need for consumption. And by the way, Mr. Smith pointed out, the Menckens are a bunch of cowfucking rednecks. The sheriff raised his eyebrows. The Andersons, on the other hand, said the conspiracy was a product of atheism in America. People weren’t afraid of God anymore and they sure weren’t afraid of sin. Instead of going to church, kids were fiddling with fancy videogame consoles and expensive cell phones while the rest of Indiana was on its knees, praying for salvation during the economic crisis. Even worse, Mrs. Anderson confided, the video games were violent, sinful, and godless. The sheriff nodded politely. Just look at the Smiths, Mr. Anderson said, a bunch of shi shi liberals thumbing their noses at the world with their Ivy-League degrees and their highfalutin words. Finally, there were the outspoken Voses who said the problem was the rich-poor gap. Rich kids were flaunting their SUV’s, five hundred-dollar purses, and iPhones to the world while down-and-out folks held up their pants with shoestring.

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