Authors: David Anthony
SOMETHING FOR NOTHING
A NOVEL BY
ALGONQUIN BOOKS OF CHAPEL HILL
Post Office Box 2225
Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27515-2225
a division of
225 Varick Street
New York, New York 10014
Â© 2011 by David Anthony.
All rights reserved.
Printed in the United States of America.
Published simultaneously in Canada by Thomas Allen & Son Limited.
Design by Anne Winslow.
This is a work of fiction. While, as in all fiction, the literary perceptions
and insights are based on experience, all names, characters, places, and incidents
either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Anthony, David, [date]
Something for nothing : a novel / by David Anthony. â 1st ed.
1. Businessmen â Fiction. 2. Husbands â Fiction. 3. Business failures â
Fiction. 4. Thieves â Fiction. 5. Drug traffic â Fiction. 6. Social status â
Fiction. 7. Wealth â Fiction. 8. Murder â Fiction. I. Title.
813â².6 â dc22Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 2010052419
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
For Erin and Aidan
I had been getting something for nothing.
That only delayed the presentation of the bill. The bill always came.
That was one of the swell things you could count on.
The Sun Also Rises
SOMETHING FOR NOTHING
nton Radkovitch was a Jew, but Martin had hired him anywayâhad hired him, in fact, for precisely this reason. Or at least this is what he'd been telling people for the past six months, ever since he'd offered him the job and fired one of his two full-time employees, along with a part-time secretary, to pay for the move.
“You know,” he'd say, affecting what he thought was just the right sort of jokey, ironic tone. “He's got the thing with the money, and the bankers, and all that stuff.”
Plus, he said to his wife and anyone else who'd listen, the guy had a degree from Stanford University. To Martin, this was nothing short of amazing. Martin had a two-year degree from Armstrong College, a shit business school in Berkeley, and it was hard for him to imagine breathing the rarefied air of the Stanford campus for four full years. He'd been there for the end-of-season football games between Cal and Stanford, and had always been impressed by the lush landscaping, the red mission-style tiled rooftops, and the curved, whitewashed stucco archways. You could always tell who the Stanford students were in the crowd, even when they weren't sitting in the student section. It wasn't the moneyâMartin knew plenty of people with money. It was that they really did seem smarter, keener, more aware than the people Martin knew.
Driving now through town, Monday morning, late, hurrying to get the kids to school, Martin thought about Ron Beaton, the full-time guy he'd fired in order to hire Radkovitch. They'd been good friends since second grade, and it hadn't been easy.
me?” Beaton had asked. His voice had actually quavered, and when he stood up from his desk, fists clenched, Martin had
thought for a second that Beaton was going to hit him. “For what? For being your best salesman? Jesus, Martin, I thought we were friends. There's something wrong with you, you know that?”
Later, when Martin told his wife Linda that Beaton had punched a hole in the wall and stormed out, maybe crying, he'd expected her to back him upâmaybe even sympathize with him. But in fact she'd been just as disgusted with him as Beaton had been.
“You really are pathetic,” she'd said, not looking at him, which was what she always did when she was genuinely mad at him. “Seriously. I mean it.”
Martin had explained that he didn't have a choice, that business was bottoming out, and that this new guy was commissions only, so it was a huge savings. The second half of this wasn't true, of course. In fact Radkovitch was getting all of Beaton's salary and then some. That was the only way he could afford him. The guy had worked for Merrill Lynchâhe had experience and connections. Plus, he was good-looking, and he had that jocklike way about him that people liked (he'd even played varsity tennis at Stanford). Guys like that cost money.
But the first half of what Martin said was definitely true. Anderson Aircrafts was in free-fall. He was the only dealer of used aircraft in the entire Bay Area, and for years things had been great. There were weeks when it seemed everyone wanted to come out to his little office at the Hayward airport and plunk down three or four thousand dollars for a used Cessna or maybe a Piper Cherokee. Sometimes they were the sort of rich guys you'd expect. The assholes who'd gone to Berkeley or USC twenty-five years ago, and who had the money and time to seek out a new hobby, one that seemed romantic but maybe a little less physically demanding now that they were middle-aged. There were plenty of buyers, though, who didn't fit that profile, who might wander in on a whim, asking to trade a car for part of the payment (which Martin was happy to do).
But then about six months ago the Arabs said no more oil, and now no one wanted to buy a plane that cost a million dollars a month for
gas. Or maybe it was just that no one had any money anymore. Certainly the banks weren't signing off on loans the way they had even a year ago. Martin had read something in the
about how for years all the U.S. cash reserves had been pulled out of the country to pay for Vietnam and now for oil, and how even though Nixon was printing more and more money, it was basically disappearing. The details were lost on him, but he got the point. And he'd seen the pieces on the news about the Arabs and their palacesâhe knew where the money was. It was buried in a big secret chamber somewhere in the desert, under the sand and the heat and the oil derricks, far away from desperate Americans like Martin Anderson.
Martin chuckled. What a fucking mess. Could things possibly get any worse?
“What's so funny?” his son Peter asked from the backseat of Martin's Cadillac (a sharp-looking 1972 Coup De Villeâhe'd traded straight-up for a 1968 Cessna 210H Centurion). Peter was nine, but he acted both older and younger. He was writing in the notebook he'd been carrying around for a while now. It was some sort of diary he used for taking notes about everyone around him. He'd gotten the idea from a book about a kid who's a spy of some sort, and now he was driving everyone crazy with his snooping and scribbling.
“Nothing,” Martin said.
“He's laughing at the people in the gas lines,” his daughter Sarah said. “We've got gas in our tank and they don't.”
Her voice was flat, but Martin heard the irony behind it, recognized it as her new way of talking. You're an ass, and I know it, the tone said. Thirteen years old. Eighth grade. Trouble. She was wearing a yellow shirt held on by straps that tied behind her neck, so that her shoulders and her arms were bare. A halter top, Linda had called it. She was also wearing a too short skirt made out of denim that was frayed at the bottom. She was in the front seat, with him, but was turned away, looking out the window. This was the most he'd heard her speak in weeks, practically, except when she was on the phone, talking to her
girlfriendsâor, sometimes, to the boys who were starting to call (he could tell by the set of her voice). He remembered how, not long ago, she'd been obsessed with saving gas stamps for the set of tinted drinking glasses the Gulf station was giving away. Now she couldn't be less interested in something like that, and now the Gulf station didn't give anything away, anyway.
But she was rightâit was a Friday, and so the lines were huge. It was the thirtieth, so only people with even-numbered plates could pump gas. And they could only pump five gallons or ten dollars' worth, whichever came first. All through town, lines snaked out of gas stations and onto the road, with the cars in line pulled over to the side. Some of the lines were really long. Most people had their engines running, probably because they still had half a tank, and you couldn't fill up if you had half a tank or moreâyou had to burn up gas to get gas. Everyone looked stressed out.
He saw a couple of people he recognized and was tempted to give them a quick honk, maybe a sympathetic wave. But he knew Sarah would suspect him of gloatingâshe'd interpret his wave as one that really said “you're screwed.” And of course she'd be right, or at least half right. Because the truth was that he could pump his own gas, out at the airport; he didn't need to put up with the misery of the cattle lines. At first he'd kept a low profile about this, but lately he'd been dropping hints about it here and there. He knew he'd regret itâalready he'd gotten a few weekend phone calls from people offering to pay double or take him to dinnerâbut he couldn't help himself.
He pulled into the drop-off circle at Sarah's junior high school. Lots of tall, shady oak trees and a big happy rainbow painted on a wall in front. But it didn't take an expert to figure out that the school was dysfunctional. A couple of the classrooms faced outward toward the parking lot, and in each window there were tangled, broken blinds hanging at skewed angles. Martin was pretty sure that the blinds matched the chaos of the classes. Kids walking in and out, stoned and giggling, ignoring the teacher. And he knew what the teachers were
likeâeither some tired old lady, or some young guy trying to be pals with the kids to make up for having been a lonely outcast when he was a teenager.
It had been Martin's idea to move out to the suburbs from Oakland. That was about three years ago. He'd pushed for the move mainly for “the schools”âthe code for the race issue in places like Oakland. But this wasn't cutting it. Yes, the elementary school seemed pretty solid (and as a bonus, a couple of the female teachers were fantastic looking; several times Martin had popped into Peter's fourth-grade class just to check out this year's perky twenty-seven-year-old and her short dresses). And yes, they'd heard that the high school was supposed to be wonderful. That was the word: “wonderful.” But everyone seemed to agree that success in the high school required surviving the junior high. It was as if the junior high were a ship that sank a few hundred yards off shore every year, buffeted by gale force winds and huge waves. The goal was to swim to shore or, better, get into one of the few life rafts. But inevitably, some didn't make it. Martin pictured Sarah flailing against the storm surge, buoyed by a life jacket but for the most part helpless against an angry ocean. She might survive and make it to shore, but, he felt, she was going to be too weak to make it any further.
“Okay, bye,” Sarah said, slipping out of the car.
“Hey,” Martin yelled to her before she could slam the door shut.
She stopped and looked at him, but everything about her was leaning away from the carâher knees, her shoulders, even her feet.
“Have a good day,” he said. He offered up a smile, but she just nodded and closed the car door.
Martin took a quick look back at Peter, but he had his head in his notebook. He was about to turn the wheel and drive off when someone slapped the roof of his car and leaned in.
Fuck. It was Gary Roberts.
“Hey there, Martin,” he said with a little chuckle. He looked back toward the rear of the car. “You're even-numbered. Looks like today's your fill-up day.”
Roberts had been a local swimming legendâOlympic caliber, apparently. But now he and his wife owned a couple of the local Baskin-Robbinses. The ice cream was pretty good, but Martin couldn't stand talking to either Gary or his wife, especially as it was inevitable that they'd start yakking at him about their kids. Martin knew that their daughter was class secretary for Sarah's grade, or something like that, and got excellent grades. Their son, who was about Peter's age, was also an
student, and he was already a star swimmer (or so Roberts had told Martin). Both of Martin's kids got lousy grades.
's, even in P.E. They were smart enough, but they couldn't be bothered, apparently. Sarah cut class all the timeâprobably, he knew, to smoke pot. Peter had a different set of problems. He was strange, fat, and didn't have any friends (though Martin wasn't ruling out drug problems for Peter in the near future). The saving grace was that both of Roberts's kids were homely. They had their dad's piggish little snout.