I was once fairly good at chasing kell-worms from gardens. This led to seeing a thief at night, and reporting it to the authorities. This led to a low-paying but steady job patrolling some residential areas at night -- the residents felt that the police were underestimating the risk that the criminal element posed to their area. This led, slowly and by small steps, to my current position, as a steady worker and sound thinker who can solve problems that the police do not. For a modest fee, of course.

I pondered this. Compared to the other advertisements in the local broadsheet, this was a bit wordy. In fact, my title was a bit wordy itself. Surely there might be a better term for someone who solves problems that the police do not? Perhaps I should hire a wordsmith, or at least an editor, to assist me.

My pondering was interrupted by a scratching at the door -- a customer! I am not well known, but word of mouth is keeping me in work most weeks. Today, work took the form of a distressed elderly gentlebeing.

"Hello, Smoov, I have need of someone who can set right a crime that the police will not."

"This describes me almost exactly. What is it that you need?"

"I have been the victim of a theft -- someone has stolen a valuable book."

"I fear you have misunderstood the premise of my vocation. That is a matter that the police will address. I believe that you should contact them first."

"I have done that!" she exclaimed with some force. "They would agree to bring the matter to trial as a minor theft, but they would not press with appropriate reparation. They believe the crime to be much less than it truly is! I refused to proceed under these conditions. It would be pointless."

"This is exceptional. Please explain."

"An acquaintance of mine, a gentlebeing by the name of Llop, stole a book that I recently acquired. It was once in the possession of the honorable Dref. Before he died, it was his favorite book."

"I do not understand. Does it have some of his writings inside?"

"No -- It has no special value under traditional economic theory. But I collect objects that the famous have owned. Both the fact of his possession and his particular favoring of it add value to the book."

This was such an unusual idea that it took me a moment to frame the problem appropriately. Historical events clearly do not attach to items. However... The book had value to her that it did not have to others. While this was not a healthy mode of thought, it was one that could be dealt with under known economic models.

"This is an easily solvable problem. Simply buy another copy of the book, and offer it and one dollar in trade to Llop."

"That won't work, Smoov. He collects the possessions of the famous as well, and it has equal value to him as it does to me. Perhaps more, but that is beside the point; given this extra value, this clearly constitutes as a serious theft."

I won't lie to you readers, I almost ushered her out of my den right then. It is not wise to mix with the affairs of the insane. But economics is economics, and this was clearly a moral hazard. And, after all, I was Smoov, the one who solves problems that the police do not. The OWSPTTPDN. No. I'd keep working on it.

"I suppose that it would not hurt for me to meet with Llop and see what his position is. I will require a retainer fee of $96, and a written statement of the situation with all pertinent details. Please do not use shorthand."

On my way to visit Llop, I stopped at a purveyor of used items. Unsurprisingly, she did not have a copy of the book in question, but she was able to use her network to quickly find someone who did. A quick dash across town, and I had located a number of copies, ranging from recent editions to editions of the proper age. I made my selections and left for Llop home.

As you have surmised, I had in mind the workings of a plan of dubious morality but of clear economic gain, and I was eager to test it out. Listen, I will explain.

Llop lived in a den like all others. I do not understand the need for excessive description of setting. Nor of personages: Llop was green, of average height, and within normal limits for hygiene. If you would like to know more, you may find him in the directory and speak to him yourself.

"Hello, Llop, I am Smoov. I solve problems that the police do not. I was contracted by Sar Till to negotiate the return of a book once owned by Dref."

He paused before responding, most likely debating if I would pass the matter on to the police if he refused to speak to him. I find that few people understand my role in the legal system, no matter how clearly I express it.

"I have the book, but as I have told her, it is not a matter of economics or theft. I simply value the book more than her, and as there is no economic process for establishing value of this sort, it is just that I maintain possession."

I had my own thoughts on the limits of economic processes -- had he no understanding of the basics of auctioning? -- but I kept this to myself. I planned to solve this puzzle through deception, not debate.

"Be that as it may, she is still considering legal action. As the police have not been sufficiently helpful, she has asked me to determine that the book is in good condition, and is the correct book, before she proceeds."

"I am surprised that you would consider me foolish enough to cooperate with you on such a matter. It is clearly not in my interest to do so. Please come back when you have a warrant."

"I think that you do not understand my role in the legal system. I am not a member of the police. I am a solver for hire, and Sar Till has hired me. If the best solution is to break into your house, steal the book, and have the police return the book -- at no cost! -- to the rightful owner, then that is the route we will travel."

"You bluff. You would not put your reputation at such risk."

"I would if the price is right."

He could not argue with this logic, and with only a moment's thought -- no doubt considering the wisdom of involving the police on his own behalf -- he decided that he would maintain a better position by letting me assess the book.

As I have said, his den was as all others. The book sat on a bookshelf, with no trappings of mysticism or idolization.

As expected, he watched me carefully throughout my inspection, but this suited my purpose. I spent a few moments inspecting the book as if I knew what I was looking for, inspecting the fore edge for the publication information and leafing through the book. All I needed to know was that Sar Till's description had been accurate, and that it was a standard edition with no identifying marks.

At such a time as I thought that Llop was sufficiently attentive, but yet not too attentive, I quickly -- but not too quickly! -- slid the volume in question into a pocket, at the same time removing a slightly cheaper edition. Llop did not miss this -- indeed, he hardly could, given that the edition that I placed back on the shelf was slightly smaller and had a more gaudy cover.

"Smoov! You must think that I am a fool! Take that impostor back immediately, and return my book!"

"That it is 'your book' is still a matter of debate", I said stiffly, taking a copy of the book out of my pocket. "I will be back, after consulting with my employer."

"You may come back, if it pleases you, but I will not speak with you further. Your attempt to steal the book in front of my eyes will not help her case in court, and I think that I need not worry too much about legal action in the future. Please communicate this to her."

I left hurriedly.

Sar Till was quite happy to have Ethics and Game Theory returned to her, and rewarded me commensurately. Arriving home, I took two copies of the book from my long-coat pocket: the cheap edition used to alert Llop to my theft, and the original that had once belonged to Dref. I had achieved a minor miracle, turning a zero-sum conflict into a positive-sum victory in which everyone believed that they had come out ahead. By the measure of any economist, I was a true hero.

I put the editions on my own shelf, inordinately happy with the acquisition. I did not care that it had once belonged to Dref, but I felt that it had some additional value as a symbol of my success. Perhaps I was beginning to catch the sickness that affected Llop and Sar Till. But still, enjoying additional utility of whatsoever sort only added to the merit of my accomplishment, so I would not fight it.