Read Something for Nothing Online

Authors: David Anthony

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BOOK: Something for Nothing
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Ludwig had asked what Val was talking about. “He sounded kind of pissed off,” he said. Martin had told him that it was about whether or not to enter Temperature's Rising in a race down in Southern California, but he could tell that Ludwig wasn't really buying it.

Martin set his coffee, the
Racing Form,
and the donuts on a news box (as usual, the
had headlines about Nixon, gas lines, and Patty Hearst). He fished his car keys out of his pants pocket. He heard the sound of a plane engine and looked up. It looked like a Cessna 177, and it was gaining altitude as it moved off inland, to the east. Even from where he was, Martin could tell it wasn't one of his planes, but he wondered where it was going.

Huh, Martin thought. Maybe it's a sign.

But a sign of what? He wished he knew, because he still hadn't decided what he was going to say to Val.


y two-thirty Martin and Ludwig were in Martin's Cadillac, zipping north along the freeway toward Golden Gate Fields. The clouds hadn't cleared and you could feel the fog closing in, but it was still a nice day. The high couldn't have been more than sixty-five degrees, which to Martin was amazing, because he knew that just over the hills it was probably eighty.

The guy with the 240z had been a no-show, and Martin had worked all morning to contain his frustration.

“Fucking guy,” he'd said, over and over, sometimes to Ludwig, sometimes just to himself in a mumbled mantra. He remembered the feeling from his days at the car dealership, and he didn't like it. Some people just got off on acting as if they really were interested in making a big-ticket purchase, as if they really had that kind of money. Not for the first time, Martin wondered if these pretend buyers knew when they woke up in the morning what they were going to do.

“I'll be back in a while,” a guy might say to his wife in the morning. “I'm going into town to act like I can buy something expensive.”

“Okay, honey,” she might say. “Make sure and get their hopes up.”

“Oh, don't worry,” the guy would answer with a laugh. “I will.”

Martin had wanted to bail out before lunch, but he and Ludwig had ended up washing a few planes, playing cards, and then working through the listings in the
Racing Form
for Golden Gate Fields. Finally, though, Martin couldn't stand it anymore, and he'd talked Ludwig into closing up and going to the track with him.

“Hey,” Ludwig said as they drove along the freeway. “Guess what I saw over the weekend? What movie, I mean.” He had the passenger window down, and his shaggy hair was blowing in the wind. That was
his new look—longish hair, sneakers, and jeans with a dress shirt. It was driving Martin crazy. Who was going to buy something from a slob? Martin always wore slacks, jacket, and nice shoes. You had to look sharp.

“I don't know,” Martin said, shrugging. “
The Exorcist

“No,” Ludwig said, shaking his head. “I did see that a while ago, though. It scared the shit out of me.”

“Yeah, well,” Martin said. “I saw it last weekend. And the weekend before that. Because I live with my daughter. She's possessed by the devil, just like the girl in the movie. She spins her head around and everything.” Martin wished he could surprise Ludwig and actually spin his head 360 degrees for effect, but he settled for 90, moving his head right and then left in a simulation of a complete rotation.

Ludwig laughed and nodded. “You need to hire a priest and do the exorcism thing.”

Martin shook his head, letting him know the weight of his burden. “No shit I do,” he said.

Ludwig had listened to Martin complain about Sarah for the past year or so, about the drugs, the sullen anger, the older boyfriends with driver's licenses. Ludwig was thirty-eight and twice divorced, but he didn't have any kids. He seemed pretty much thrilled with this fact. He was an okay-looking guy, always had a girlfriend. Martin was glad he had his kids, but he did envy Ludwig's freedom. Get up in the morning, no one to worry about but yourself. He didn't necessarily want it, but it sounded all right sometimes. Especially lately.

“Anyway, no,” Ludwig said. “Not
The Exorcist
. I saw
. You know . . . the one with Yul Brynner as a robot cowboy? It came out last year, but it was playing in Oakland, at the Grand Lake. It was pretty good. It was great, actually.”

“Sure,” Martin said. He signaled, then switched lanes and pulled around some guy creeping along at sixty in his station wagon. “Yul Brynner gets his face blown off, but keeps coming after the main guy anyway, right? I remember that.”

In fact, he remembered the night he'd seen it. He'd been under the impression that it was going to be a straightforward western. Probably not quite like
The Searchers
Red River
(good films, though a little dated), but maybe sort of like
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
(a great film). So he'd taken both kids—a night out with dad. But of course it turned out to be a crazy sci-fi thing, with tourists visiting a futuristic theme park. There were different “worlds” that you could go to: MedievalWorld, WesternWorld, and so on. They were utterly authentic, down to the last detail. And most important, each world was inhabited by robots that played the part of the citizens of that particular place and time. So in MedievalWorld you could have sword fights with robot knights and barbarians, and in WesternWorld you could have gunfights with robot gunslingers. But because it was a fantasy thing, you always won. You always drew your gun or swung your sword a little faster. And, better, as the customer you got to have sex with the female robots of the “world” you were in. He remembered sitting there in the movie theater, imagining himself in a fantasy world like the one in the film. It sounded pretty good—except for the end, where the Yul Brynner robot turned on the humans and started gunning them down. That was a problem.

“So you've seen it,” Ludwig said, clearly pleased. “Good. Except Yul Brynner doesn't get his face blown off. What happens is that the main guy throws acid in his face. But yeah, it's the guy versus the robot. Man confronting his technological hubris. You know—the whole Frankenstein thing. It's actually a critique of the guys that go to Westworld. Our whole society, our belief that we can do or have anything we want. That we can play God.”

Martin nodded, not really following. He checked his rearview mirror, looking to see if a cop might be sneaking up on them. He couldn't afford another ticket. Then he glanced at Ludwig. He suspected that his comment about Frankenstein and hubris were basically quotations from his girlfriend, Jenny. She'd studied movies over at UC Berkeley (where you could get a degree in anything, it seemed). Now she was a
secretary or an advisor or something on campus. She was constantly making references to films and books, and always talking about how capitalism was undermining the human condition, political oppression, blah, blah, blah. Is this what they talked about over there? No wonder that school was so crazy, with the protests and the rest of that shit. Martin and Linda had gone out to dinner with them a few times, and it was always the same thing. It was incredibly tedious. He wondered how Ludwig could put up with it. She wasn't bad-looking, but still.

Just a few weeks ago they'd been roped into meeting in San Francisco, at Vanessi's, the old Italian place on Broadway with big, high-back booths and photos all over the walls of Italian celebrities who'd been there. They'd gotten into a discussion about Martin's daughter and her drug bust. Martin tried to blow it off, didn't want to get into it, but Jenny had been like a dog with a bone, wouldn't let it go.

“It's a cry for help,” she'd said. “That purse, that secret compartment . . . you know what that is, don't you?” She'd looked around at them, incredulous. “It's a projected vaginal space,” she'd said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. “She's putting drugs there, hiding them, but really she's saying that her sexuality is like a contraband substance. That it's something she feels is illegal. Or illicit. I'm not kidding.”

Martin hadn't known what the fuck she was talking about (something he repeated over and over to Linda as they drove home across the Bay Bridge), but he'd managed to resist the urge to throw his drink in her face. He knew it was some women's lib shit, and that she felt pretty good about herself. And that she was drunk, as usual. He and Linda had exchanged glances (and Martin had sent a few glances Ludwig's way as well), but he let it go. Why bother?

“Hey,” Ludwig said, breaking the momentary silence. They were about halfway to the track. “I know how we can make some money.”

“Okay,” Martin said. “Now you're talking. Let's hear it.”

“Well,” Ludwig said. “What about something like the
thing? But something where people can get money? Or steal it? You know, a pretend thing. We set it up, and they pay us lots of money. But not with robots. I mean something more realistic, like with actors. The actors play along, let you call the shots, but it feels really real, you know what I mean?”

Martin looked over at him, then back at the road. “Like what?” he asked.

“Well,” Ludwig said. “I don't know. What about a fantasy thing, like in
but where you rob a bank? Or where you pull off a jewelry-store heist? Maybe even a liquor store. It doesn't matter. It's just, you know, a robbery camp. You get to plan it out, do the robbery, the whole thing. The camp takes like three days. Or maybe it's a week. I don't know. But you sign up, pay your money and everything, and you get to plan and do a robbery of some sort. With some other people. But the catch is that it might not work. You've gotta do it right or the cops'll get you. And maybe, if you do a really good job, if you don't get caught or whatever, you get some kind of prize, or some actual money.”

Martin nodded. It was silly, of course, but funny and interesting just the same. He knew—or was pretty sure, anyway—that Ludwig wasn't serious. Not seriously serious, anyway.

“Like Patty Hearst,” he said.

“Yes!” Ludwig said, hitting the dashboard with his palm. “That's it! Patty Hearst meets Yul Brynner. Think about it! It's brilliant.”

Martin pictured himself charging into a bank, clutching a machine gun, jumping up on a table, maybe shooting off a few rounds to get people's attention.

“Everybody down on the ground!” he'd yell. Loud—really loud. “Keep your fucking hands where I can see them!”

He'd always wanted to do something like that. Scare the shit out of everyone, send them sprawling, cowering. Maybe Ludwig was onto something. He thought about the security-camera pictures of Patty Hearst on the news and in the papers (which was ironic, because her
father owned the
). They were the images of her in the Hibernia Bank she and her nut-job SLA crew had robbed in San Francisco. She was holding a machine gun and it looked like she was shouting orders at the customers and employees (the gun was an M-1 carbine, he'd read, though he wasn't sure why he remembered this random detail).

“Do you think that's why she joined the SLA?” Martin asked. He switched lanes again. Why did people drive so slowly?

“What?' Ludwig asked, clearly not following him.

“Patty Hearst,” Martin said. “Do you think she joined the SLA for that kind of thing? For the excitement? You know, to show everyone she was in charge, and they'd better listen and do what she says.”

“I don't know,” Ludwig said. “But I think I'm onto something. It could work. You might be surprised. All we need is some start-up money.”

“Yep,” Martin said, his mood changing. “All we need is a little bit of money.”

They were quiet for a while after that, lost in thought as they sped down the highway. Martin thought about money and how he didn't have any. He assumed that's what Ludwig was thinking about, too. But maybe not. Maybe he was thinking about his BankRobberyWorld. Or Patty Hearst. Maybe he was imagining meeting her in secret. She'd be in disguise, sick of the SLA freaks and desperate for help. Martin could see the two of them, huddled in some restaurant and plotting how to steal a plane from Martin and fly away to Canada or some other safe country, one beyond the reach of U.S. law. Eventually (because now of course it was Martin's fantasy), she'd make contact with her father. In turn her father the newspaper tycoon would pay Martin for his airplane, and then, knowing a good thing when he saw it, he'd invest in Martin's business. Martin, for his part, would forgive Ludwig for his rash move—mainly, he would tell him, because he understood the impulse. And because he understood Patty Hearst's own motives a few months ago, when she pulled her gun out and yelled for everyone to do as she told them, that it was a bank robbery. Because this wasn't
something that had happened in a fantasy world. She'd really done it, and that was a different matter altogether.

Yes, he thought as he parked the car. That was worth thinking about.

the big front entrance, they were greeted by the familiar smell of cigarettes and spilled beer. The guy on the P.A. system was making his prerace announcement (“Ten minutes till post time”), and the usual crowd was milling around. It was kind of an older crowd—middle-aged and up. Later on in the evening, some younger types would filter in, a couple of guys out for some fun, maybe with their dates. But for the most part the twenty-somethings weren't coming to the track these days, and certainly not the way they had when Martin was that age. Now, especially in Berkeley (or Albany, which was where the track was located, at least technically), horseracing was dated. That's all there was to it. The younger set that did come to the track were probably doing it on a lark—frat guys from the university, that kind of thing. Maybe they'd seen Secretariat winning the Triple Crown last year, had seen the highlights on the news, or had read about it in
Sports Illustrated
. Or maybe they'd just seen that amazing photo of him coming down the stretch in the Belmont Stakes, the last race in the Triple Crown. Martin had cut it out of the
and taped it up by his desk for a while. Secretariat is in the foreground of the photo, and he's just off the rail, coming down the stretch. He's headed right for the camera, practically. But he's so far ahead—thirty-one lengths, it turns out—that Ron Turcotte, the jockey, is actually turning to glance over his shoulder at the rest of the pack. Looking at that photo, you get the sense that even Turcotte can't believe what he's seeing or what he's involved in. Martin remembered that after the Belmont win, Secretariat ran at Arlington with 1–20 odds. You had to bet twenty dollars to make one. But he won, of course, by nine lengths or something like that.

BOOK: Something for Nothing
3.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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