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Artists recreations recreation

Last week’s federal court docket in the District contained a noir-y conundrum  worthy of Elmore Leonard. Readers, how do you get out of it alive?

In the awkwardly named United States of America vs. Seventeen Thousand Nine Hundred Dollars ($17,900) in United States Currency, prosecutors try to claim nearly twenty grand in cash. The cash’s purported owners claim that the stack comes from fur coat sales in North Carolina; drug residue allegedly found in a backpack with the cash and narcotics convictions on the would-be owners’ rap sheets suggest otherwise.

What’s interesting is how police got their hands on the money in the first place. When a New York City-bound Amtrak train pulled into Union Station, a passenger referred to as “M.M.A.” in court papers filed last week grabbed at what he thought was his own backpack. Instead, he found $17,900 wrapped inside a shopping bag and turned it into the cops.

I think this is a dopey move. But what to do instead? There are two choices here, neither of which are particularly appetizing. Let’s assume that the U.S. Attorney’s Office is right and this actually is drug money, because someone losing their fur coat money is just too sad to consider.

You can follow M.M.A.’s lead and turn the backpack into police. Crooks can’t get revenge on somebody who turned in their money backpack—now that the police have it, they’ve got bigger problems. But there’s a downside to this: you don’t get to stroll out of Union Station with a load of cash.

There’s the much more appealing option of keeping the money. It’s only $17,900. That sounds like a lot, but, according to Narcotic News, it’s only enough to buy about half a kilo of cocaine in the District. That’s not exactly “track someone down and kill them with a bolt gun” money. Plus, if the best this criminal organization can do to move money is stuff it into backpacks and get on Amtrak, they probably don’t have the resources to track down a random train passenger.

Here’s my suggestion: keep the money for the maximum period of time it takes to track down a train passenger—say, six months—and if Anton Chigurh shows up at your house, you hand him the cash and say you were keeping it for him. He’s not going to risk a murder charge once you hand over the money; this guy can’t even keep his eye on a backpack full of money.

Once that time is up, you keep the money under your mattress and start dipping into it to pay for things in cash (a lot of food trucks and beers at the Raven, I guess?). The downside is that, for the rest of your life, you worry that an angry Amtrak-riding drug dealer might show up and kill you.

How would you handle this situation? Have your say in the comments.

Update, 3:00 p.m.: What if you put it in a safe deposit box?

Backpack photo by Shutterstock