Read Matchstick Men: A Novel About Grifters With Issues Online

Authors: Eric Garcia

Tags: #FICTION, #Media Tie-In, #crime

Matchstick Men: A Novel About Grifters With Issues

BOOK: Matchstick Men: A Novel About Grifters With Issues
13.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

“Eric Garcia proves himself an expert at the art of the con.”

The New York Times Book Review

“Eric Garcia pulls off a nifty con game of his own with a hall-of-mirrors story where what you see is rarely what you get. It’s an elaborate shell game of mooks and motives, and when the pea is finally revealed, it’s the most dexterous sleight-of-hand since Kevin Spacey strolled out of a police station in
The Usual Suspects

The Boston Globe

“Matchstick men are con artists who practice the subtle art of separating the innocent and clueless from their money. Eric Garcia … writes so convincingly and yet somehow sympathetically about the namesakes of his new novel that you’d swear he’s taken a few suckers himself.”


“Eric Garcia … is the master flimflam man.… A wild imagination translated in a wry, no-fat writing style.… Garcia walks a fine line between darkness and light. He does not gloss over the cruel reality of the thievery, showing vulnerable people robbed of money they can ill afford to lose. At the same time, he lends a real poignancy to Roy’s acceptance of the young girl into his barren life.… This is a very entertaining book.”

USA Today

“Set to be one of next summer’s major blockbusters … bound to be a hit. Roy’s been a grifter for ages.… He’s a compelling character. The immediacy of Roy’s present-tense narration drags you right into his head and keeps you there as the tale unfolds, making it nearly impossible not to be touched by his love of the grift [and] his unforeseen parental devotion to Angela.”


“For the author of a series of novels that starred a sleuthing dinosaur, inhabiting the mind of an obsessive-compulsive con man is cake.… Roy’s deteriorating grip on reality and the complications that follow prove just right for a quick read.”

Entertainment Weekly

Matchstick Men
’s emphasis is on action and dialogue—and Garcia is adept at both.… The surprises that attend every page of the last section are earned and satisfying.”

Rocky Mountain News

“Lively paced, often informative … [Eric Garcia] draws his characters efficiently and effectively, with salty dialogue and peppery prose.”

The State
(Columbia, SC)

“Great grifter dialogue, loopy dupes, and world-class conniving—not to mention more twists than a corkscrew and a truly poignant character in Roy.”

Kirkus Reviews

“Garcia creates a tense and tragic comedy that will have you cheering on the criminals even when they’re bilking the naïve.”


Matchstick Men
is a work of fiction. The characters are entirely imaginative creations of the author, and any resemblance between these fictional characters and actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

2003 Random House Trade Paperback Edition

Copyright © 2002 by Eric Garcia

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Random House Trade Paperbacks, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.

and colophon are trademarks
of Random House, Inc.

This work was originally published in hardcover by Villard Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, in 2002.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Garcia, Eric.
Matchstick men: a novel about grifters with issues / Eric Garcia
p. cm.
eISBN: 978-0-307-48803-9
1. Swindlers and swindling—Fiction. 2. Obsessive-compulsive disorder—Fiction. 3. Fathers and daughters—Fiction. 4. Teenage girls—Fiction. I. Title.
PS3557.A665 M38     2002     813’.54—dc21     2002069014

Random House website address:



he diner is nearly empty this afternoon, so Roy and Frankie sit at the counter longer than usual. There’s no point in bringing out the playing cards yet, not until more people show. There’s an old couple in the back booth and a little family across the way, but neither set is a good pull. On a day like today, it’s best to wait. This is just for fun, for practice. No need to get tricky. The deer wander into your sights when the deer wander into your sights, Roy always says. No use forcing the issue. No use shooting badgers.

The waitress, who has served Roy and Frankie almost every day for the last six years, walks by the counter and, without stopping the motion of her feet, fills both their coffee mugs to the brim. She does this fluidly, perfectly, like a ballerina, like she’s been trained to do it all her life. Roy grunts his thanks. Frankie eats his burger.

“Gonna get sick off those,” Roy says. The corners of his mouth are smeared with mustard.

“Off what?”

“Off them burgers. You got the gout last month, you’re gonna get it again.”

Frankie shrugs. His bony shoulders barely move inside the thin cotton button-down. “I got a lot I can bother you about, do I do it?”

“Sometimes,” says Roy.

“You’re a fat bastard, I bother you about that?”


“Am I doing it now?”

“Not saying you are. I’m saying the last time you ate a burger …” Roy shakes his head, wipes his thick cheeks with a paper napkin. “Fuck it, eat what you want.”

“Thank you.” Juice runs down Frankie’s face. His grin is shot with ketchup. They eat in silence.

The waitress makes her way back across the diner, behind the counter. This time she comes to a full stop. Her name tag is a laminated sheet of paper. The ballpoint scrawl reads
. Her hair is limp, dead across her shoulders, sunk low and heavy. Like she washed it with gasoline. “You two gonna want dessert today?” she asks.

“Nah,” says Frankie.

Roy points to his coffee mug; Sandi fills it. “We’re gonna sit for a while, sweetheart, if that’s okay.”

Sandi coughs and walks away. It’s the same every day. Roy and Frankie always tip her well and treat her better than most, so she lets them sit at the counter as long as they like. She looks away when they do the things that they do. Sometimes she listens in, but mostly, she looks away.

Frankie polishes off his burger and sets to work on the garnishings,
crunching whole strips of raw onion between his teeth. “That guy I told you about last week—”

“The one from the docks?”

“Yeah, he wants to get together soon. He’s top-heavy, Roy, he’s got people ready to take a fall—”

Roy shakes his head, takes a bite of his turkey on rye. “Not now,” he mumbles. “We’ll get to it later.”


“Later,” Roy repeats.

Frankie spits out the unchewed onion in his mouth, leans into his partner. “What’s a matter with you? Everything’s later these days. You don’t wanna run short, you don’t wanna run long—I can’t get a break. Meantime, I got guys—I got my own guys, you know—breathing down my collar, steaming me up. Can’t front money if I can’t make money, partner.”

Turning around on the diner stool, slowly spinning the rump of his pants against the vinyl beneath, Roy fixes Frankie with his best grimace. Frankie stares back, slack skin hanging off that gaunt face, eyes sunk back like they’re scared of the light. Hair cut short, buzzed to an inch, sideburns loping down the cheeks. He wants to be James Dean, but hasn’t gotten there yet. Roy doubts he ever will.

“Here’s the thing,” begins Roy, but his words are cut off by a two-toned bell. The front door has opened, and the deer have entered the paddock.

College kids, two of them. Boy and girl, hand in hand, wearing school sweatshirts, walking toward the counter. By the time they get there, Roy and Frankie are already deeply involved in their card game, playing as if they’d been concentrating on it for the last two hours.

“That’s fine, that’s fine,” Frankie is saying as the college kids take their seats. “I can take a beating with the rest of ’em.” They are two stools down from Roy and Frankie, but two stools is nothing when it comes to the hook. Two stools is an inch.

“Hell,” says Roy, folding up his cards, making a show of it, “we been playing too long at this, anyway.”

“No, no, you wanna play, we can play …”

“Forget it,” Roy says. He collects the cards laid out in front of Frankie and folds them into the deck. “You wanna see if we can get the check?”

Frankie looks around for the waitress, cranes his neck theatrically, but she’s nowhere to be found. She knows better than to come around now. This is the time when she disappears for a while. This is the time when she earns her tips.

“Can you beat that?” says Roy, just a mite louder than necessary. Then, turning his body slightly to the right, he repeats the question: “Can you beat that?”

The boy, nineteen, twenty at the high end, gives off a tight little grin.

“You try to get service, you try to
 … Well, whattaya gonna do, right?”

Again, the boy grins. He’s been engaged, but doesn’t know it yet. Roy grins back, then turns to Frankie.

“So we wait.”

“So we wait,” Frankie says.

And they do. A minute, maybe two, and the waitress stays far out of their range. Soon, when the boy and girl have stopped talking to each other and sit quietly, staring at their menus, staring at the counter, Roy lays it in.

“I figured out that game,” he starts.

“Which one?”

“The one, the one I showed you last week—”

A burst of laughter from Frankie, a gunshot guffaw. “Dumbest thing I ever seen.”

“No, no,” Roy insists, “I figured out what I was doing wrong. I figured it out, got it all working now.” The deck of cards is suddenly back in his hands, fingers working over the edges.

“Look, I don’t mean to belittle you or nothing,” Frankie explains, “but you suck at card tricks, and I don’t wanna waste my time.”

“Your time’s that precious?”

“Anybody’s time is precious enough not to watch you pooch a card trick.”

Roy sits back hard, breath coming heavy from his mouth, like he’s been hit in the gut. “The hell you know,” he says, recovering, pulling himself back up to the counter. “You’re gonna watch, and you’re gonna like it.”

BOOK: Matchstick Men: A Novel About Grifters With Issues
13.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

A Reason To Breathe by Smith, C.P.
Neverland by Douglas Clegg
Firefly by Severo Sarduy
When Night Falls by Cait London
Between Two Worlds by Katherine Kirkpatrick
Only You by Bonnie Pega