In 2016, I was lucky enough to have a second novel slip out of the apartment and onto a publisher’s list. Here’s an excerpt you’re welcome to share and enjoy. If it leads to a few sales, I’m grateful; if it doesn’t I won’t sulk. Or, not in public anyway.
from Auggie’s Revenge, chapter 9, “Uncle Sam’s Blood Money”:
But the thought of murder, like most others, drifted away, and I resumed my daily grind. Taking attendance and grading papers. Designing lessons. Lecture or discussion. In class, expounding upon the poverty of philosophy, or at the very least the philosophy of my poverty. Making a jackass of myself in front of undergrads so certain they wouldn’t wind up like the sloppy joker in front of the room.
One afternoon while strolling to the street corner after classes, in the middle of my muddled thoughts on philosophy, Auggie, humanity, murder, et al., I spied a thick wad of bills. I was in a crowded area, but everyone was headed in their own direction, a myopic herd of pedestrians avoiding each other’s eye contact. The money was miraculously unguarded, under the sunlight and in open view. So I approached, making sure not to alter my rate of progress, and stamped my foot down on the found cash. I reached in my pocket for my pen and tiny notebook so that to passersby, it could appear as if I was examining some directions or scribbling an idle or important thought or two—one of those lightning bolts that came as a rare surprise and would be lost forever if I didn’t write it down. Then, after a few minutes, I stooped down, as gracefully as a man in decline can, grabbed the cash, slid it between notebook and palm and suavely pocketed it all.
A few blocks later, I found a coffee shop. Knowing my pocket was full, I ordered a large with lots of goodies—cream and mocha and cherry and more. My constant regulars—milk and two sugars—were far too proletarian for my philosopher-king tastes.
Seated outside, at the grate tables, I took out my notebook and collected my thoughts on the found cash. Yes, this before counting it, because I wanted to assert that I was so cool, and yet, I also didn’t want to draw attention too soon. I found myself jotting down notes about karma, a concept I thoroughly disbelieved and how finally the money in my case could mean that I was cursed—say, if some drug-dealing tough guys were to hunt me down, claim ownership, and demand interest payments.
But the natural next move was to determine what to do with the dough.
Stashing it in the bank and adding it to the other nineteen-hundred dollars—enough to know I would never have enough—was briefly introduced to my brain and quickly dismissed. Forget “buy and hold” and “stay the course” and all that financial-advisor baloney. The stock-market rollercoaster was an absurd place to “save” cash. Ed Saferi, in corporate communications all across town, had already smiled and told me that the fees for my funds were higher than the dividends. Although I didn’t know what this meant, it sounded bad and I still hadn’t bothered to check out his advice about moving my meager amounts to a more consumer-friendly environment.
No, that was bullshit and the philosopher’s fate no doubt was to remain among the people. It was not to waste away in any sort of luxury of a private retirement facility or home for the materially advantaged. No, my destiny, if I were lucky, was to find a cheap, pay-by-the-week motel near Miami and deconstruct the margaritas with a friendly Cuban cigar. Yeah, Jonny said we’d only need a cigar, and a weekly visit to the Asian parlor for all services rendered if we were fortunate enough to have functioning parts or funds for little blue pills at that late stage.
Saving dough would never do. And that was when I counted it.
I cautiously pulled the wad from my pants pocket. Sneakily, warily, I kept the bills well below the grate table. I paused. I took a deep gulp of air. I held them clasped between my hands and my lap. I neither sensed nor saw that anyone was watching me; in fact, only a few pedestrians or coffee sippers were out and about.
Then I noticed a young woman. She was riding on a coaster bicycle, an older model, and she had some dust on her cheeks. She wore a brown and beige peasant skirt and a peach spaghetti-strap top. Her hair was a swirl of orange and purple, but even without make up, she was attractive, perhaps just a notch below Melony if properly sanitized and packaged for mainstream consumption. There was a woven basket stapled to her handle bars and an orange milk crate behind her seat. Inside the milk crate, with a furry head just above the rim, sat a tiny mutt. It was a calico, a white dog with brown and black splotches. Part terrier, most likely.
The young woman, perhaps a peer of Melony’s at the other school in Collegetown, rolled up to the garbage receptacle, stopped, arched her back, and stretched her arms high to reveal fluffy brown patches under her arms. The healthy hair growth of the independent mind. She then leaned over and down, and sifted for buried treasure.
She reached in and pulled out various Styrofoam packages and other containers. I saw her lift up one such package, dig beneath it, and grab half a cheeseburger. She then proceeded to take a small bite, chew, and savor the meat. Despite classroom theatrics with post-garbage pizza, I winced. She looked uncertain, so she took another bite. Swallowed. Ugh. Satisfied, she opened it up, removed what appeared to be the remains of a beef patty, and fed it to the dog. As small as he was, nevertheless, he gobbled the grey brown meat all in one gulp.
It is then that I took action. I pocketed my own findings and approached the woman. For the moment, it was my fate to play not only the hypocrite, but also the altruist.
She turned and regarded me with suspicion.
“I couldn’t help but notice you were digging for gold there.”
“Dude, I wasn’t invading the nasal caves. It’s your kind, middle-aged men, the almost incontinent crowd, who hunt for green squiggles and yellow worms.”
Er, okay, the wrong foot I had decidedly approached upon. Some clarification seemed to be in order.
“What I meant was that I saw you there with the garbage, and I wanted to offer you this.”
I extend my hand holding a ten-dollar bill.
“Dude, fuck you. This is about a sustainable world, not Uncle Sam’s blood money. Why you capitalist scum, I reject your paper. Fuck off.”
For good measure, she flipped me the bird.
But I was drunk on found cash, so as she moved to shove off, I dropped the tenner into the straw basket attached to the handlebars.
Five full peddle rotations later, she saw what I’d done, screamed like she’d been violated, and did a pinky-to-pointer, two-finger grab of the bill, and tossed it out of the basket. Disgust reddened her face, and her dog yelped in my direction.
I watched the ten-spot drift and turn in my direction and gently descend to the asphalt. At this point, not caring if anyone was looking, I briskly walked into the street, picked it up, and returned to my seat.
Back with my dark triple shot, extra whipped cream on top, I sorted through the bills. The retrieved ten. A fiver. Three ones in a row and then a full house—three twenties and two hundred dollar bills! Three more tens after that and a single two-dollar bill in back. Three hundred ten dollars even. The tens and hundreds were as crisp as Rice Krispies fresh from a sealed box, but all the others were as worn as I was, and a sole single looked like it had been running companion to a triathlete in a tropical storm.
I heard Auggie’s voice, “Not a bad grab for ten minutes of work,” was how Auggie would describe it to me no doubt.
Just like that, as if I’d conjured him, from above I heard his familiar yelp: “Hey, where d’ya get all the cash?”
I looked up and there he was. All I could think to do was raise a finger to my lips, indicating quiet, and in a low voice, “Have a seat.”
I motioned to the opposite chair, and he plopped down at once.
“I found it on the street.”
“How d’ya do that?”
“It was on the corner. I stepped on it. No one passing by said a thing to me. Then, I checked high above and all over for candid camera. Nothing high, nothing low.”
“Sharp thinkin’, Professor.” Auggie nodded approvingly.
“So, I waited. Occasionally darting my eyes about to see if anyone looked as if they were looking for money. Or as if they were looking at me.”
“And then what?”
“I bent down, grabbed the cash, stuck it deep in my pocket, found this place, ordered a drink, and sat down here.”
“So how much d’ya get?”
“Three hundred dollars.” Why did I round down?
“Not a bad grab for two minutes’ work.”
I thought to myself, here is poor Auggie, alone in the world, with little backing him up—no family and not much in the bank. And so I made my offer.
“Say, Auggie, I’d like you to have this.”
I reached over with twenty dollars.
“What’s this?” Auggie eyed the bill with suspicion.
“I’d like to share. I really just got lucky, and I’d like you to have some of it.”
I watched Auggie stare down the twenty. When he spoke again, he said, “How about seventy?”
“I beg your pardon.”
“Thanks for the deuce, Prof, but hit me up with five fingers.”
“Fifty dollars. You know my deal, always short on dough. I could use a few bills.”
“You want me to give you seventy dollars!? That’s a quarter of the total.”
“Yeah. But don’t ya see the significance? It’s a celebration of our friendship. Male bonding, dig?”
Dug I did not, but I felt my suspicion turn to apprehension and then to pensiveness before final acquiescence.
Auggie sat silently and waited until finally, I peeled off two more twenties and a ten and handed them over. He added them to the first bill, bent them over, and slid them into his wallet. Unless I was hallucinating, I saw him push them snug against a few twenties resting warm and unspent.
He smiled and winked. “You’re an easy mark, Professor.”
I felt like I’d just been had, but hadn’t a clue as to how to get the money back.
“Pardon me, sir. Would you care to have your picture drawn?”
Abruptly ending my financial considerations was a man who appeared a bit scruffy, aged around the edges, with some greying settlers in the beard.