The Smart One
A Wapakoneta Novel
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.”
“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.