The Smart One – Chapter 5

The Smart One
A Wapakoneta Novel

Author’s Note
Wapakoneta, Ohio as seen in this novel is an alternate universe, entirely fictionalized version of an otherwise very fine and beautiful community. It is not their fault that I fell in love with the name.

Eventually Paulie roared the Mustang out of the parking lot, mad by the way he was driving and Dink couldn’t really blame him. From a distance the Mustang looked like the driver’s side was covered with some kind of tribal tattoos. Dink thinking, still, couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

He was rounding up the shopping carts – again – checking to see if the ones that hit the car had any paint transfer, but it didn’t seem to stick to the chrome, or maybe the rain flaked it away. Looked back over his shoulder to see old man Spangler, looking down at where the Mustang had been, kicking at the wet asphalt with the toe of his shoe. Had to be looking at those paint flakes.

Dink clattered the carts into their bay at the front of the store then held the customer door open as old man Spangler approached. He waggled a finger at Dink, and Dink walked back out into the rain.

“You’re going to pay for this, young man.”

“I didn’t do anything,” Dink said.

“My insurance premiums went up after Louetta Holzer took her tumble in the produce aisle and my agent is going to have a cardiac if I have to call him about this.”

“It wasn’t me.”

Old man Spangler spoke through gritted teeth. “Look, you’re lucky I don’t fire your sorry ass over this.”

“My sorry ass? C’mon–”

“I saw you flipping Paulie Spitale off as he was walking into the store. That bad enough, but if one of my customers had seen it? A lot of church ladies shop here. No, maybe you didn’t push the carts, but you’re mixed up in this, I can tell.”

“Sir, you heard what Crystal Beekman said. This is so unfair.”

“If you want fair, you can go find another job. I can’t account for Crystal Beekman, maybe she was in on it.” He turned, looked across the parking lot. “Which car is hers?”

“I don’t know,” said Dink.

“Well find out so I can check the bumper. Anyway, I don’t want the claim on my insurance, and if Paulie Spitale wants his car repainted, it’s coming out of your pocket, so find a place to do it cheap. Not too cheap. Paulie did it cheap and that’s why you’re in trouble now. So no watercolors, okay?”

“This is not okay.”

“I’ll pay cash, take it out of your pay, twenty-five, thirty percent per check till we’re even. You don’t like this, you got a better way to do this, you go talk to Paulie Spitale’s dad, see what their lawyer has to say. But from what I hear, his daddy probably won’t waste the lawyer’s time dealing with you. Hear what I’m saying?”

Dink nodded. It made rain drip off of his nose.

“You been a good worker these last couple of weeks, that’s why I’m not sending you kicking rocks down the road. I was gonna give you a raise after ninety. You keep your nose clean here on out, I’ll still do that. Get your debt off faster.”

Dink nodded again.

“Good. Any questions?”

“Before or after tax?” Dink asked.

“Don’t be a smartass,” said old man Spangler. “That’s why you’re in trouble now.” He turned and walked into the market.

Dink trying now to do the math in his head, two times twenty-nine times minimum wage minus one-third. It made his head ache. By the time he took groceries to Albanee for rent there wouldn’t be a whole hell of a lot left for–

Now wondering how much it would take to repaint Paulie’s car, how long he’d be short for, how long to pay it off at one third times minimum wage times twenty-nine times two. Heavy with the sadness of it, he looked out across the parking lot, at the cluster of carts that had been left out there since he’d rolled the others back, the job of that sissy guy again.

Maybe if he hadn’t been a sissy. Punched Paulie Spittle a good one in the nose when he said that about Albanee, strangled him right there in the rain and left him lying in the lot, taken the keys out of his cold dead fingers, hopped in the Mustang and gone for a nice, long drive–

“You’re getting wet.”

Crystal Beekman saying this, standing in the overhang of the market, two pink bags from Spangler’s dangling off one hand.

“Suits my mood,” Dink said.

“I heard the old man ranting about you in the meat department,” Crystal said. “What he’s doing to you, that sucks.”

“Could be worse.” Dink wiped rain out of his eyes, decided he was being stupid standing there and getting wet, stepped up under the alcove next to Crystal. “But hey, thanks for sticking up for me. I owe you one.”

“Darn right you owe me one. That car I described? Belongs to my boyfriend.”

“Damn it, Crystal–”

“It’s all right. He deserves it. He’s cheating on me. I just haven’t gotten around to breaking up with him. Gotta find a place to crash before I make my move.”

“I hear that.” Dink wishing he’d been that smart, he wouldn’t have ended up in this situation with Albanee, though it did have its benefits.

“So who was the genius pushed the carts into Paulie’s car anyway?”

“My big brother,” Dink said.

“What the guy who went to Afghanistan, something weird like an army cook, but ended up getting decorated?”

“Andy,” Dink said. “No. This is my other big brother. Brad.”

Crystal’s upper lip twitched. “Brad? He’s kind of–”

“I know,” Dink said. “Whatever you’re thinking. Whatever you’ve heard. But he’s family and Paulie Spitale would have taken him apart, so thanks for covering.”

“You owe me, Dink. I’m serious.”

“You name it. I’m serious.”

Crystal looked out across the parking lot. Lips turned up into a smile. “I do need to get moved.”

“With your boyfriend around? He won’t get the wrong idea?”

She laughed.

“Don’t get me wrong. I meant anything, but you can probably understand that after right now I just want to keep my head down and my nose clean.”

Crystal laughed, deep and throaty, didn’t match her looks at all. “Nothing like that. I mean, if it came to that you could take him down easy. But that’s not it. This is something else, needs to be done by the end of the day. Quick in and out–” She stopped and looked at his face. “Nothing illegal, nothing risky. Just need a hand with some business.”

Dink nodded. “Okay.”

“When you get off work?”

“They close at eight, I do some cleanup. Call it eight-thirty?”

“That works.”

“You want me to meet you somewhere?”

“I’ll pick you up here. It’s close by. Bring you back when it’s done. Lemme think about it, maybe I can think of something to help you out with this car thing. Might cost you another favor, though.”

Dink studied her face, one corner of her mouth turned up like she knew a secret, wasn’t telling him everything. “Let’s see how this one goes before we commit to anything else,” he said.

“You got it, cowboy.” Her lips went to a full blown smile. “I see why they called you the smart one in high school.”

Dink surprised. “Who did?”

Crystal shrugged. “My crowd.”

“Was that before or after I dropped out?”

“There’s more to smarts than book learning. Guy I know with his doctor’s degree in something something is working a Mickey Dee’s in south Lima. ‘Would you like fries with that?’ Two roomies in a slum and he sleeps on the couch. You sleep on a couch, Stapleton?”

Dink shook his head, glad she hadn’t asked that a couple of weeks ago.

“All right. Pick you up here, eight-fifteen then?”


“Right.” Back down into that half-smile again. “No putting one over on you. You really are the smart one.”

Her turning and walking across the parking lot, strings of denim covering the bottom corner of her ass, Dink realized. No clue on that tan line thing. Thinking he wouldn’t cheat on that, what kind of a guy was she hooked up with do something like that.

And when she ducked down into her car at the far end of the lot he sighed and stepped back into the rain, toward the other loose carts, off to push that ball of dung or whatever it was back up that unending hill again.

The Smart One – Chapter 4

The Smart One
A Wapakoneta Novel

Author’s Note
Wapakoneta, Ohio as seen in this novel is an alternate universe, entirely fictionalized version of an otherwise very fine and beautiful community. It is not their fault that I fell in love with the name.

There’s a laughing “Whoa-ho!” behind him that gets Dink thinking he should get the hell out, just start running, never mind that payday is tomorrow because whatever that two times twenty-nine hours times minimum wage amount comes to, it’s not going to be worth waiting around for, not right now.

Looking through the rain now at the cherry red Ford Mustang, half expecting to see smoke and flames coming from underneath it, but no. Nothing like that. Just a long snake made of shopping carts wrapped around the one side where it kept going after the collision, like a chrome anaconda trying to strangle a shiny new apple.

He steps toward the car now, thinking how he just has to look. That whole car accident thing. Can’t look away. Have to look and see the bodies crumbled in their seats, the air bag deflated around them like a used condom, and then have nightmares about it for a month.

Only there’s no dead bodies here, but the nightmare is real. The tight chrome wiring of Spangler’s carts was no match for the cherry red coats of paint on the Mustang and had left a line of scrapes across the driver’s side jittering like Morse code across the surface as the plastic wheels of the carts fought the rough surface of the asphalt, digging in especially where the framework of the cart was welded together.

Dink thinking now, hey, if he hadn’t parked like a jackwagon, the carts would have missed him. By a couple of inches, would have been close, but yeah. Parked diagonal like that, they were right in the path.

The rain carrying flakes of red paint down the side of the car and dumping them onto the ground, flakes of cherry red blood marking the scene of the crime.

Crime, Dink thought. Hey wait a minute–

Too late now. A torrent of profanity hits Dink’s ears and then an anguished cry.
“What the hell you do to my car?”

Coming right on top of that another anguished voice, deeper, older, just as mad.
Dink turned. Paulie Spittle advancing on the scene now, eyes darting back and forth at the line of carts around the Mustang, a cube of beer cradled in one arm. Right behind him the source of the other voice, old man Spangler, in his grimy butcher’s apron and waving his hands at Paulie.

“I don’t care what happened. You gonna pay for that beer? I don’t care who your old man is, you show some respect around here. You either gonna pay for that beer or take it back in, then worry about the car.”

Paulie Spittle grabbing Dink by the shoulder, all he really had time to do. He wanted to throw a punch, Dink could tell, but couldn’t, not with a handful of shirt in one hand and beer in the other. The anger welling up in Paulie’s eyes even worse now, his eyes getting red and watery like he’s about to start crying.

Dink trying hard not to smile at the beauty of it all.

“What the hell you smiling at, loser?”

The pipe tobacco smell of old man Spangler in his nose now, him stepping in to take Paulie’s hand off and move him away from Dink without actually pushing.

“Dink you want to tell me what happened here?”

“He ruined my car, that’s what,” said Paulie Spittle.

“Your name Dink?” said old man Spangler.

“The carts rolled over,” Dink said.

“From standing still across a perfectly flat parking lot?” said Paulie Spittle.

“Yeah, right. You pushed them.”

Old man Spangler studied the pileup, looking at the last of the line of carts carefully.

“Seems to me,” he said, “you hadn’t parked that way, this never woulda happened.”

“Doesn’t matter how I parked,” said Paulie Spittle. “You got six people in the store, they’re all over by the cripple spaces. I parked out here middle of nowhere, last coat of paint was still curing.”

“Still curing, you took it out in the rain.”

“Don’t matter,” said Paulie Spittle. “You’re gonna pay for this. And you.” Turning back to Dink, the free hand coming up with a well-aimed accusing finger. “You are really going to pay. You had no right to do this.”

“I didn’t do this,” Dink said.

“You did, on purpose,” Paulie said. “Because you can’t take a joke, and you’re too big a coward to say anything at my face, so you do this behind my back.”

“You do this, Dink?” said old man Spangler.

Dink shook his head. “I need this job.”

Old man Spangler, to Paulie: “I believe him.”

“Yeah, you go and you do that. Me, I’m gonna get my old man’s lawyer, we’ll see what happens. You gonna have to change the name of the store, better call your sign man. It’s gonna be Spitale’s Market now on.”

“He didn’t do it.”

A new voice from behind them. They all turned. Dink laid eyes on her, Crystal Beekman, that long, dirty blonde hair of hers, lips almost as red as what was left of the finish on the Mustang. Her tanktop showing both that she was braless and the tattoo on her arm, a rainbow coming out of a prism, that Pink Floyd thing. Homemade cutoff jeans with ragged strings of denim hanging off the edges, lots of thigh showing and Dink just knew he’d be able to see the bottom corner of her ass too, if she just turned the right way. Purple painted toenails in dollar store flip flops, perfect legs and a perfect tan, Dink wondering where the tan line was, if there was a tan line, and right then the blood left his brain headed for parts south.

“What?” Paulie Spittle the only one apparently immune to her charms at that moment.

“I was pulling in, saw the whole thing.” Crystal’s eyes staying on Dink’s a little longer than normal, that fog in his head growing thicker.

“So what happened,” said Paulie.

The fog suddenly clearing and Dink about to yelp, no, don’t give up Brad, you’ll only make it worse–

But Crystal was already talking before Dink found his voice.

“I was pulling in to come in, pick up a few things, you know–”

“Get to the point,” said Paulie Spittle.

“Well, I’m pulling in and this car almost hit me, backing out real fast, not watching where they’re going. So I hit the brake and this car comes out right in front of me, and I think they see the carts there because they hit the brake and their bumper just, you know, kisses the carts.”

Dink exhaled.

“And that’s all it took, they were off to the races then. Right into his car.”

Nodding at Paulie Spitale.

Old man Spangler looked at Dink. “And where were you during all this?”

“He was grabbing up carts over there,” Crystal said, nodding to a corner of the lot.

“He asked the loser,” Paulie said. “Not you.”

“I was grabbing up carts over there,” Dink said, pointing the same way.

Paulie looked at Crystal down the length of his nose. “And why should I believe you, you–”

“Easy,” said old man Spangler.

Crystal gave Paulie a look that made Dink glad he wasn’t on the receiving end of it.

“What kind of a car was it, ma’am?” said old man Spangler.

“Gray, silver, whatever that color is.”

“That narrows it down to ten million,” said Paulie.

“Four door sedan,” said Crystal. “Rear fenders rusting out. Dent in the rear passenger door on the driver’s side. Same door, the window had one of those Grateful Dead stickers on it, the skull with the lightning bolt through it.” Giving that look to Paulie again. “Didn’t get a plate number. Sorry, Sherlock.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” said old man Spangler. “See there, Paulie? We’ll call the police, report it as a hit and run, your insurance covers it–”

“Your insurance,” said Paulie. Looking over at Dink. “No, his.”

Dink, not having any kind of insurance on anything, kept his mouth shut.

“Hey, Einstein,” said Crystal. “Dink wasn’t driving, his insurance won’t cover it.”

“All I know, not my fault, I ain’t paying for it.”

“We’ll work it out,” said old man Spangler. “Give me your phone number, I’ll be in touch.”

Old man Spangler pulled a pen and pad out of his bloody butcher apron, jotted down Paulie’s cell number, putting it away fast before the rain soaked the page. Crystal shrugged and wandered into the store. Dink tired of listening to Paulie and the old man jabbering, went over and started to disentangle the mess of carts from around the Mustang.

“You. Hey.” Paulie’s voice a dog bark. “Get away from there. You caused enough of a mess today.”

“Just trying to help,” Dink said.

The Smart One – Chapter 3

The Smart One
A Wapakoneta Novel

Author’s Note
Wapakoneta, Ohio as seen in this novel is an alternate universe, entirely fictionalized version of an otherwise very fine and beautiful community. It is not their fault that I fell in love with the name.

“Hey, lil’ bro. What you doing here. I thought you were a WalMart kinda guy.”

Dink rolling his eyes. “Go away, Brad. I’m busy.”

“Haven’t seen you in weeks.” Eyeing Dink, his hands on the long line of shopping carts. “What, you work here now?” Laughed.

“What are you doing here? You’re the WalMart guy.”

Brad smiling. “Check this out.” Pulled a wad of bills from his pocket, handed them to Dink. “We made these at Zach’s work.”

Dink unwrinkled one of the bills and looked at it, biting the inside of his lip. The thing was so bad in so many ways. Hoping that Brad didn’t say–

“Whadya think?”

“Um, this is the wrong kind of paper.”

“We know. That’s why we wadded them up. Make them feel more used. Zach says it confuses people’s fingers.”

“Is this–”

“A ten, stupid.”

“The person on this bill is–”

“Davy Crockett. He’s an American hero. Like Harriet Tubman.”

Dink sighing. “Brad, this is the guy who played Davy Crockett on TV.”

“Yeah,” Brad said. “That’s the picture of him we found on the Internet. So we figured that people would think that’s what he looked like, ’cause they’d find the same picture.”

Dink wishing he were anywhere but standing here with his brother right now because the day kept getting worse. Albanee on his case and Paulie Spittle on his case about Albanee and now Brad with one of his stupid ideas and he wouldn’t listen to reason because it was his idea, and he always thought his ideas were genius, and now that light mist of Ohio rain turning into big drops, that cold fall rain that jolted you when it hit, plipping as it hit the paper in his hand.

He looked down at the paper as the rain hit it. The drops were making little explosive Os, soaking right in, turning the image on the page into a smear of runny red and green and black teardrops.

“Dammit, Brad,” he said. “Look at this. Real bills don’t run like this when water gets on them.”

Brad yanked the fake ten out of his hand, tucked it into his shirt pocket. “Dummy. People don’t use them out in the rain. They use them inside a building, in a store. Were you born stupid or what?”

“Sometimes people spend them outside in the rain.”

“Oh yeah? When?”

Dink shaking his head. “The monster truck rally,” he said.

Brad taking a moment to digest this.

“You know, last year, we paid the guy who ran the parking lot with a ten, and what was it you said to him? ‘Stay dry, bro.’ You thought it was funny as hell because thirty seconds before we parked you’d said, ‘Look at that idiot there working in this miserable piss of a rain, no way you’d catch me doing that.'”

Brad still not saying anything, Dink knowing that sometimes his brain took a long time to send a signal to his mouth.


Brad said, “Well, I wouldn’t spend this at the monster truck rally rain or shine because it’s my favorite sport and I couldn’t do that to them.”

“Whatever,” Dink said. “They need work.”

“Speaking of spending–” Brad holding out a fist now.

Dink glaring at him. “What?”

“Take these before they get wet.”

A roll in Brad’s fist. Supposed to be like the rolls that big spenders in casinos would peel bills off of but this one was really pathetic, not much big around as a cigarette.

“I don’t want them.”

“It’s ninety bucks. Take them to customer service and tell them you want five twenties.”

“You’re stupid. And you’re ten short.”

“You’re the one told me not to use the wet one.”

“I do that and they’ll know something’s up.”

“Then go buy a couple six packs of beer. Get change. Maybe some Cheese Curlies. And circus peanuts, but just the orange ones, not the multi colored ones.”

“No,” Dink said. “Old man Spangler trusted me enough to give me this job, it’s the only one in town I could get, and I need to keep it so I can show long term employment and get rid of some of my resume stains.”

Brad still holding out the fist with the fake bills sheltered from the rain. Dink standing there getting wet, not able to believe Brad had two years on him.


“You do it.”

“You know I can’t. I’m not even supposed to be in the parking lot.”

“Then I suggest you get out of here before old man Spangler sees you.”

“Take the money, puss.”

“Go spend it at Walmart, you think it’s so hot.”

“They got security cameras all over. Learned that the hard way, remember?”

“You said you wouldn’t get caught.”

“We need to test it first.”

“You’re not testing it here. Go test it in Lima, at Rancho Muchacha. Put it in someone’s g-string, see how far it gets you.”

“How ’bout I put it in Albanee’s g-string, see how far it gets me?”

“Leave her out of this. I can pin you, I’ll hold you down until a mud puddle forms.”

“You’re a puss. Albanee’s got you whipped, boy.”

Dink felt the color rise in his face, the words forming there on the back of his tongue, yeah and why don’t you just grow up, I.Q. 82. He could even sing it, the I.Q. 82 song, the one he’d sing so Brad would hit him and get in trouble while he got ice cream, but it wouldn’t matter now because Brad was out of shape and Dink had been able to take him for years. But he wouldn’t do that because he promised himself he’d quit doing that years ago. Their dad lecturing him one of the few times he was around, “You’re the smart one and shouldn’t have to do that, use your brains to solve instead of hurt.” He’d ignored that for a while because Dad had vodka breath when he said it, but one time he’d tried it and it worked better than he expected. And Brad didn’t look so hurt about it at the end of the day, hadn’t even realized that he’d had something put over on him. Didn’t have that lingering sad look like the I.Q. 82 song gave him.

So he looked at Brad, blinked drops of water out of his eyes, then looked past him at the doors of Spangler’s Market.

“It’s old man Spangler,” he said under his breath. “He’s coming.”

Brad’s eyes getting wide at this, he stuffed his hands in the pockets of his coat and went toward the street, against the angle of the parking lot.

Dink sighed. Turned back to the line of shopping carts, and as he did there were a handful more out there now, loose, waiting to be rounded up. That sissy man’s task, never ending, keep rolling those carts up the hill.

He trudged over to get them, rounded them up and cradled them, one, two, three, and on the way toward the fourth he heard a metallic rattle.

“Liar! Lying puss!”

Brad at the big line of shopping carts, leaning into it as he pushed them, aiming them at Dink. The line rattled toward him and he stood there, immobile. Not stunned but realizing that the line of carts was going to miss him by a country mile, the natural curve of the loosely linked objects pulling away from him and aiming for the back corner of the parking lot.

The runaway train rushed right past Dink. He turned to Brad, who was hightailing it away from there, and opened his mouth to shout an insult, but then he realized the line of carts was heading for the back corner of the parking lot. He swore and broke into a run, caught up with the escaping snake easily, grabbing it by the handles of the rearmost cart.

The snake shuddered and lurched. The cart in Dink’s hands came away with two others attached, and the rest of the thing just kept going, plastic wheels making an unholy racket on Spangler’s asphalt.

Dink still had grip of the handle of the three carts when there was a loud metallic crash, and Paulie Spittle’s cherry red ’73 Ford Mustang wasn’t quite so cherry anymore.

The Smart One – Chapter 2

The Smart One
A Wapakoneta Novel

Author’s Note
Wapakoneta, Ohio as seen in this novel is an alternate universe, entirely fictionalized version of an otherwise very fine and beautiful community. It is not their fault that I fell in love with the name.

Dink thinking now about that guy they’d tried to teach him about in school, couldn’t remember his name. Didn’t really exist. He hadn’t been to keen to learn that stuff anyway, was always more interested in smoking cigarettes outside the shop class garage and trying to cop a feel off some of the easy girls.

Anyway this guy, he was under a curse of some kind, he was always pushing this giant ball up a hill. Maybe it was the earth. Or maybe it was a giant ball of dung. Or maybe that was something from when he wasn’t paying attention in biology class.

So this guy would push this round whatever it was up a hill and then something would happen – smoke break, lunch, closing time – and the ball would roll back down the hill. And this guy would have to start pushing the ball up the hill again.

It’s two weeks later and Dink is thinking about this guy because of the job he has, working at Spangler’s Market, doing a lot of grunt work. Him wanting something more high profile than this, but the woman at county services shaking her head at him the more they talked.

“Until you get that GRE, there’s not a whole lot of places that are going to be interested in you.”

Dink thinking, what the hell, it did me a lot of damn good to be the smart one.

The woman at county services suggesting the fast food places down on gut row as a starter. Dink saying no, he’d done that scene before, with it worse now, not going to work with a bunch of zit faced teens with their noses glued to a smart phone screen.

Then the woman said – and Dink thought there was more than a little sarcasm here – that if he could read, Spangler’s Market was looking for stock boys.

Dink explaining to her that he was twenty-five.

“Can you read or not?”

He got the job, mostly alphabetizing cans of beans on the store shelves, but a lot of this: bringing in the long racks of carts after people were done with them. Most folks were civil and put the carts in the long racks strategically placed in the Spangler’s lot. Others were jackwagons, leaving the carts scattered around the place like lost sheep.

And that was what reminded Dink of the guy with the rock. He remembered now this guy had some kind of sissy name. Because as soon as he went out and brought a long line of carts back in, no sooner did he tuck them where they belonged when people came and took them out and filled them with groceries, then back out into the lot. It was funny, too, the way they’d stop and take one of Spanglers’ courtesy alcohol wipes to swab off the handle of the cart, but paid no mind to how filthy the bottom of the cart was from leaky meats, sweaty milk bottles, and the bottom of toddler shoes from parents who let them ride inside the basket.

So that was it. That endless thing. Over and over. No point to it. A curse.

Dink out in the parking lot now, squinting as the last of the sun vanished behind a dark cloud. At least he was working outside, gathering up the strays when he heard a familiar gurgling. The sound of a classic old V-8 inhaling gas.

The car pulling into the lot and Dink knew who it was. Paulie Spittle they called him, and he was driving that cherry cherry red ’73 Mustang, so high gloss you could check your teeth for food in its sheen.

Paulie the local legend around here, a senior when Dink was a lowly sophomore, the car being purchased as a wreck out of some old lady’s garage, Paulie restoring it every day in auto shop class while Dink was out back sneaking cigarettes. Paulie walked and got his diploma, not that it did him any good. He ended up at Roy’s Auto and Repair, where over the years he evolved the Mustang into its current goodness. And that was about all he did at Roy’s, but he never got fired, not a surprise considering who his dad was.

Dink guiding a long snake of grocery carts back toward Spangler’s now. Over his shoulder Paulie Spittle parking that car like a jackwagon too, diagonal across two spaces, not wanting anyone near his precious thing at all, like that back corner of the parking lot belonged to him.

So Dink turned away, back to the endless job of taking the carts back inside, deciding that if there was a zombie apocalypse like that one show on TV he wouldn’t have to worry about the carts anymore. But right now it was all about the money and this was how he made it.

Paulie Spittle passing him and the line of carts. Dink hoping that Paulie wouldn’t see him, would ignore him or at least not recognize him, but no such luck. He said to Dink, “Well, hello loser!”

Dink not saying anything.

Paulie Spittle saying now, “Hey, bro, when you going to give me a taste of that brown sugar you got?”

Dink thinking, like I don’t already have enough reasons to hate you and that car of yours, now you’re cracking on my woman.

Paulie Spittle still talking. “Bet that’s some really sweet pushin’ with that cushion she’s got. Bet it’s like humping a giant marshmallow or something. No, a chocolate marshmallow. Am I right?”

Dink showing Paulie his middle finger.

“That the best you can do? You’re a bigger loser than I remember, bro. Hey, when I’m done inside, you come bag and carry my groceries, maybe I’ll give you a tip.” Then turned his back on Dink and his middle finger and walking into Spangler’s just like that.

Dink looking around now, hoping nobody saw or heard any of that. Especially old man Spangler because he wanted to keep his job and that thing with the middle finger wouldn’t make him happy. But more than that, not wanting someone with a big mouth, and there were plenty of them in this town, to hear about it and get wind of what Paulie Spittle said get back to Albanee.

He stood there with his hands on the long string of shopping carts, the sun behind the clouds baking them, cranking up the humidity, feeling like it was trying to add insult to injury, considering that the suckage of the day had skyrocketed. That damn Paulie Spittle and his big mouth. And thinking about that sissy guy and his rock, and how much this job was like that. Then there was that business with Albanee this morning, her getting pretty much pissed over the fact that he’d been living with her these past two weeks, not like she’d actually asked him to share her apartment.

“Hey,” he said, “I told you this is just a temp thing ’till I get a job.”

“Honey, you’ve had a job for ten days.”

“I’m saving up for a deposit on an apartment I told you. You have any idea what it takes on minimum wage?”

“In the meantime, you’re eating my food, watching my TV, sleeping in my bed–”

Dink thinking that was disingenuous of her, she asked for sex from him as much as he did from her, but he couldn’t tell her that.

Instead he said, “Baby, I told you I’ll get my first check end of this week. And hey, I get a discount at Spangler’s now, that’s good, right?”

Albanee telling him all right, he had a few more days and then he needed to cough up some major bags of groceries or bring home a contract for his own place, otherwise he could go back where he came from.

“Aw, I can’t go back. You know that.”

“Now that’s your man’s pride talking,” she said, “and you just tell it to shut up. You’re living here on my good graces and charity, you know. So you better just swallow that pride and start doing some providing here.”

“I said I would.” Hating the way he sounded, like he was whining at her.

“And that’s why I’m gonna cut you some grace,” Albanee said. “My Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, he cut you some grace, too. You might not have accepted it yet. I have, so I have to cut you some grace, too. So you’ve got until payday to start bringing home some bacon. You know it wouldn’t hurt you to take Jesus up on that grace and acknowledge him as your personal savior, too.”

“Baby, I’m the new guy there. They’re gonna make me work on Sundays.”

“I’ll cut you a little grace for that, too. The apostle Paul, he said ‘if a man doesn’t work, he doesn’t eat.’ So at least you’re working. But you need to contribute to the eating, and to the utilities, too. It takes a lot of electricity to keep you in ESPN.”

Dink liking the sound of that, because of what she said without saying it, that it was okay for him to keep living with her.

But then he came in to work and it all went into the toilet. Doing the numbers in his head while collecting the carts, multiplying minimum wage by 29 hours, then subtracting a good number for taxes and then to contribute to Albanee, and it was looking like forever before he could move out. Not that he wanted to. The lack of a job and no place to stay was a pretense, and he was secretly hoping she would just ask him to stay in that voice of hers that told him she was being romantic. If she didn’t mention Jesus, he figured, it would work out perfect.
But now holding it over him like that. More suckage. Feeling the weight of an endless job, and now Paulie Spittle, coming here probably for beer and cigarettes – and now he realized how badly he wanted a smoke, but Spangler’s wouldn’t let you smoke anywhere on the premises, not even his e-cigarette.

No. Just not a good day. In that moment, Dink was kind of glad it had gone south already, because then things might be more tolerable.

At least the day couldn’t get any worse.

Or so he thought. Because then it started to rain.

And then he felt a hand clamp onto his shoulder and he turned and looked into the face of his big brother.

The Smart One – Chapter 1

The Smart One
A Wapakoneta Novel

Author’s Note
Wapakoneta, Ohio as seen in this novel is an alternate universe, entirely fictionalized version of an otherwise very fine and beautiful community. It is not their fault that I fell in love with the name.

The scam this time was paper money. Brad had worked it all out. The Government, he said, made a mistake. Did with the ten dollar bill what they’d been doing with quarters.

“It’s not the government,” Dink said. “It’s the mint.”

“The mint is the government,” said Brad.

“The mint isn’t the government,” said Dink. “It doesn’t make laws or pave highways or send kids off to war. It just prints money.”

“The guy on the radio said the government prints money to get out of financial trouble,” said Zach.

“You’re not helping,” Dink said.

“Do you want to hear my idea or not,” said Brad.

“I do,” Zach said.

“Let’s start with the money part,” Dink said. “Let’s not worry about the government or the mint.”

Brad laid it all out for them then. Whoever it was that made the money, they did that stuff with quarters. Made them collectible, made people want them. First they put out fifty quarters with the fifty states on them. Then they did presidents. Well that was all right because nobody much counterfeited quarters.

“You want us to counterfeit money?” Zach said.

“This is a good idea,” said Brad.

“Quarters would be much too hard,” Zach said.

“We wouldn’t be counterfeiting quarters. That would be stupid.”

Brad went on. The government–

“The mint,” said Dink.

Whatever. They were doing the same thing with ten dollar bills now, Brad told them. First they decided to put a woman on one, then they put another woman on, now they’re putting all kinds of different people on them. And that was the scam.

Dink and Zach looked at him.

“Don’t you get it?”

“No,” one of them said.

“We can make bills and not have to worry about who we put on them. We can make a ten dollar bill with like, I don’t know, Richard Nixon on it, and if someone at the store looks at it funny, we say, ‘Oh, that’s this year’s one, haven’t you seen it? Yeah, they put Nixon on it.”

“Nobody is going to put Nixon on money,” Zach said. “Not even the government.”

“Or the mint,” said Dink.

“Well okay,” Brad said, “that was just an example. We can put whoever we want on the bills and it doesn’t matter. We won’t get detected because, like, you hand somebody a twenty dollar bill and they know to look for Thomas Jefferson’s picture.”

“It’s not Jefferson,” Dink said. “It’s Andrew Jackson.”

“Well that’s my point. People know that face to look for. But they don’t now, not anymore, with the tens, so they keep changing them.”

“That’s really a pretty good idea,” Zach said.

Brad said, “And we wouldn’t get in as much trouble if we got caught.”

“But we won’t get caught,” Zach said, “because they don’t check tens with those pens they have.”

“I think,” Dink said, “that we would get in just as much trouble, no matter who was on the bill.”

“And less chance of getting caught,” Brad said, “because people would think the bills are collectible, like the quarters, so they’ll keep them instead of spending them.”

“That’s pretty brilliant.” Zach looking at his phone now, tapping his finger on it, sliding it on the glass screen.

“We could make the bills up at Zach’s work. They have a color copier.”

Dink said, “They have special paper they put the bills on, it has like, fabric in it.”

“So we could make the bills out of bed sheets then.” Seeing the look on Dink’s face, knowing what was coming. “White ones.”

“It doesn’t work that way,” Dink said. “Bed sheets are too soft.”

“We could starch them,” Brad said.

“John Wayne,” Zach said, eyes on his phone.

Dink and Brad stopped, looked at him.

“We could do a John Wayne ten dollar bill. Wouldn’t that be great?”

“You can’t do that,” Dink said. “John Wayne wasn’t a president.”

“Neither was Harriet Tubman,” Zach said. “She’s going to be on a ten.”

“John Wayne wasn’t that important,” Dink said. “He was only an actor.”

“He was on a postage stamp.” Zach held the phone up toward Dink. “See?”

“John Wayne wasn’t a president.”

“He didn’t play him in that one movie?”

“Wait,” Brad said. “I got this. Brittney.”

“Brittney Spears can’t be on a ten,” Dink said.

“No. Brittney my ex. She works in that women’s store where they sell sewing stuff and stuff. They have different kinds of cloth. I bet if we went there we could find some fabric that was stiff enough to print money on.”

“It couldn’t be too thick,” Zach said, eyes back on his phone. “It would jam the copier. Hey, how about Millard Fillmore?”

“You can’t put a comic strip on a ten dollar bill,” Brad said.

“Even I know that. Hey, what about we take the paper and glue the white bed sheet to the sides of it and print it that way?”

“Too thick,” Zach said. “And the glue might stick to the fuser. It gets really hot. Might jam the machine, then we’d really be in trouble.”

“Not like we’re going to be in trouble for counterfeiting bills,” Dink said.

“How about William McKinley?”

“If actors can’t be on money, then baseball players can’t be either,” said Brad.

“THAT’S IT!” Dink standing now, hands at the sides of his head, about to start pulling at his hair.

“Baseball players can be on money?” Brad said.

“No,” Dink said. Reeling himself back in, trying to keep from yelling, not really doing a good job of it. “I’m sick of you guys!” He paced in an oval between Brad and Zach, Zach finally looking up from the screen of his phone. “I’m sick of you guys not listening to me, I’m sick of you not thinking things through, I’m sick of living in this dump, and I’m sick of being broke.”

“We won’t be broke when we start printing money,” Brad said. “And we’ll be able to afford a nicer place.”

“This is not going to work,” Dink said. “Because it’s stupid. There’s too many other things on a ten dollar bill that keeps you from counterfeiting them. There’s too many other things that keep you from selling fake land deeds to retirees. They’re smarter now, look stuff up on the Internet. There’s too many other things that keep people from giving money to starving African kids. It’s like people out there have gotten smarter and you two haven’t. And I’ve had it.”

“I don’t see you coming up with any ideas,” said Brad.

“We can print the bills at my work after hours,” Zach said.

“Tell you what.” Dink moving toward the door now. “You guys can do whatever you want. Print up a bunch of bills with… with Condeleeza Rice or somebody on them and pass them off, see how far you get with it. Me, I’m out.” Moving to the door now, hand on the knob. “I’m done with you guys. Forever. I know I’ve said that before, but I mean it now. I’m gone.”

“What’ll you do without us?” Zach said.

Dink pulled the door open, face red, sputtering. “Something extreme. I’m going to… get a job!” He took two steps out the door, slammed it hard, and a picture of Miss February chewing gummed to the wall came loose and fluttered to the floor.

“He’ll be back,” Zach said.

“All I know,” Brad said, “is if they don’t let actors be on a ten dollar bill, they’d never let a rapper be on one.”

Starting Tomorrow: Free Chapter Friday

No sooner had I announced that the project I didn’t tell anyone about had reached novel length, than megafan Pizzamancer chimed up in the comments section, requesting a sample from the new book.

And I thought, yeah. He’s got a great point. Kind of a no brainer, really. After all, Andy Weir started out giving away The Martian on his website, chapter by chapter, until people began asking for a version to read on their Kindles. He did that, and the rest is history.

(Brief aside: read the book, see the movie. Both are great.)

This new book is written with commercial intentions, and the giveaway ploy worked for Weir, right? So why not?

Thinking this over, I decided I also wanted this to be fun for the people involved… so here’s what I’m going to do, hopefully with an interesting audience vs. author twist.

Starting tomorrow, and every Friday following, at 12 noon ET, I will post a chapter of the new novel right here on this very page. I will continue to do this every week until I finish the first draft of the novel. So you can root for me to finish the novel in a hurry so I can go through all that publishing rigmarole, or you can hope I get stalled out so you pretty much get the whole book for free (don’t hold your breath – next I’ll be writing chapter 29 out of a projected 54 chapters).

And yes, when I do this tomorrow I will also be revealing the actual title of the work, something I haven’t done in decades (sometime in the past I got superstitious about doing that, so this will be good for me).

I figure at this rate you’ll get four or five chapters out of the deal, and hopefully get so hooked that you’ll seek out and/or champion the book when it comes.

You up for this?

Here’s some basic rules (none of them too stringent):

  1. As an early reader, you understand that this is a rough draft and that what you see over the next few weeks may change – often drastically – before the actual publication (the early chapters of my novels are typically the most revised).
  2. You also understand that this will be published under a yet-to-be-determined pen name as this is not a typical JCF novel. The voice will be different, but the trademark humor will still be there. The trademark suspense may or may not. Depends. It’s a different brand name.
  3. I am not making any kind of secret that this is a pseudonuymous novel, so blackmail is off the table.
  4. Feel free to ask questions or challenge me over literary idiocy or generally discuss things in the comments. I do hold approval rights, but I approve pretty much every comment unless you’re trying to sell my readers Viagra. I also tend to respond to comments, so expect some back-and-forth.
  5. Have fun at all times. Notice I didn’t say “enjoy”.
  6. Try not to chuckle too hard when you hear the ice cracking under my feet.

Now the question is – am I up for this? I tend to be secretive about this kind of thing, so this is a first for me. We’ll see how it goes. If it goes well, I may repeat the process with that monster that is the UFO Novel (but no promises).

The experiment begins mere hours from now…

And here's another clue for you all.

And here’s another clue for you all.

It’s A Novel!

Congratulations are in order for me. I think. I just passed the 40,000 word mark on a writing project, meaning that it is now officially novel length.

Um, no… it’s not the UFO Novel. I’m at 50k plus on that one, and it’s a big project, a long write, and I’m taking a break from it at the moment…

What I’m supposed to have been doing right now is work on a couple of other things that have become pressing in the wake of Drawing Down the Moon being picked up via the Kindle Scout race. First, I’ve slowly been trying to get the three books of the Angel’s Luck trilogy cleaned up after being OCR scanned and into formats for both Kindle and trade paperback. Then it will be on to do the same for the two Pembroke Hallnovels, putting them both into a single volume to create the Author’s Intended Version.

I’ve also, at the behest of an illustrator friend of mine, dug out an orphaned manuscript from some time ago – a middle grade novel that, at the time I’d hoped would be a child’s gateway to science fiction, without having any ties to those Trek or Wars franchises. It had been sitting quite a while, and I needed to update it for the age of the cell phone and tech savvy young people. The revision is almost done, and then I’m shipping it off to my mighty artist.

But none of those is what I’ve been working on…

Before you jump all over me for this, hear me out. I’m a writer. I can’t help it. This is what happens to us. Lots of times an opening scene pops into my head, I write it down and file it. Sometimes it waits for years before I come back and do anything with it.

Not so this time.

How I got to this moment is a long story, but in a nutshell: near the end of June I got an idea for an opening chapter of something and wrote it down. I went to file and forget it, but the scene kept coming back, bringing friends, playing CDs and making calls to Japan on my phone. As I jotted short chapters in a session or two, I realized that this project was just what I’ve been looking for over the last couple of years: The first in an open ended series of lighthearted crime novels, able to be written quickly because each chapter is designed to be written in one sitting (my writing pattern of late has been one chapter a week based on their length).

I’m thinking commercially with this new project. The UFO novel is decidedly non-commercial, just me flexing literary muscle. I’ve wanted for some time to develop something like this, probably published under a pen name – the idea being that this series of novels wouldn’t be the typical Joe Clifford Faust novel (if there is such a thing), the different name being an indicator of that.

I started writing in earnest in September and crossed the 40k word mark today. Twenty-seven chapters so far. Halfway through for both my projected final word count and final number of chapters. At this rate I might finish it up by the end of October or the first week of November, setting a record of just over two months of solid writing (previous record holder Precious Cargo took four).

So there you go. With a minimum of fanfare and almost no previewing or teasing I’ve slipped in half a book under the radar of most everybody. It’s been a fun secret to keep and a fun write so far, but it’s time to mention it and keep myself honest for writing the back half. Crime Series Novel #1, here we come!