The Story of My Indian Friend

At one of my previous retail jobs, I was the plant guy. Which was great. No cash register, minimal customers, just pop in the headphones and water plants for a few hours.

I should also mention that this store, for being in a boring little suburb, had a surprisingly international clientelle. Which was great. So many amazing restaurants. We were right across the street from the local Sikh temple, and there was a steady flow of saris and turbans through the store.

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Actual Indian friend not pictured.

One fine spring day, there I was, lost in the music and watering a flat of impatiens, when this old Indian guy rode up on an equally old, Schwinn-style single-speed bicycle. He had a scraggly white beard and wore a blue turban and a simple white cotton kurta. He parked his bike and started browsing the vegetable section. I smiled and nodded. He smiled and nodded. no problem.

Then he came up to me, with a glare like Victor Wong in Big Trouble in Little China, holding two six-packs of tomato plants in his hand. With his other hand, he held up two fingers. He said something that sounded like, “Twah.”

The plants were more than two dollars. One thing you’ll quickly learn in retail is that explaining complex pricing concepts like, “Two for five dollars when you have a membership card” is nearly impossible with a certain segment of the senior citizen population, even when those senior citizens speak fluent English, which this one absolutely did not. Still, I tried. After a few unsuccessful attempts, I helpfully pointed to the sign which said the same thing.

Again, immigrants, I love ’em. They’re good people. They add flavor to my bland suburban existence. They make great food and great neighbors. They brightened up the place with colorful turbans and saris, and made me feel like I was somewhere more exciting than the electronics aisle of a corporate retail pharmacy. But stubborn old men who don’t understand that haggling isn’t done in the US represent a special kind of hell for retail employees.

My Indian friend, he just thought I was driving a hard bargain. He thrust the plants towards me, forcefully, and shook those two fingers in my face. “Twah. Twah.”

I rounded down for the sake of simplicity. I shook my head and held up three fingers. “Three,” I said.

Three was lower than the advertised regular price. He was making progress and he knew it. “Twah.”

“Three.”

Twah!”

This went on for quite some time. Inside the store, my coworkers watched the show with great amusement.

I realized that I don’t get paid enough for this shit. So I relented. I nodded and said, “Okay, two.” I held up two fingers. He was very happy about this and quickly became my best friend. I brought him inside and rang up his purchases at his discounted, hard-bargained price.

But I’d made a fatal mistake. I’d shown weakness. Now he knew. He knew he could break me.

Just a few days later, up he came again, weaving along the side of the road on his rickety old bike. I was inside the store at the time. My coworkers saw the old Indian man and vanished like smoke, leaving me alone with him. He waved and smiled at me. I waved back. He said something in his language that I didn’t understand. I said something in my language that he didn’t understand. We were great friends.

Once more he approached me with tomato plants. He fixed me with his cataract-clouded gaze, held up two fingers, and said, “Twah. Twah.”

He got his damned tomato plants.

“How’s your bestie today?” said my coworkers, after he left.

This went on for some time. He’d come in, and I’d risk my job by discounting his plants. Once I helped him find a new tube for his bicycle tire. He got to like the place so much that sometimes he’d just hang out and eat lunch while I watered my plants.

One of those days, he was eating his lunch, food in a white styrofoam takeout container from a local Indian restaurant. I recognized his food. In the name of international relations, and because ninety percent of the foreign words I know have to do with food, I said, “Pakora.”

This made my Indian friend very excited. He pointed to his food. “Pakora!”

I nodded and smiled. “Pakora!”

He said, “Something something something pakora something something!”

I smiled and nodded and eventually went back to watering the plants. He went on about his day, and I went on about mine.

And he showed up again the very next day. “Matt,” said my helpful coworkers, “Your bestie is here!”

He gestured me over. When I arrived, the old Indian man dug deep into the pocket of his shirt. He fishing around for a moment and came out with a handful of, I don’t even know what they were. Some kind of baked dough-ball bread things.

These he held in his bare hands. No packaging. No wrapper. Just five dough balls that had been floating around loose in his pocket while he rode his bike over, that he now held out to me, cupped in his sweaty hands, with an expectant smile on his face.

I smiled back, bravely. “…Thank you!” I said. I held out my cupped hands and he released the dough balls to me.

Behind him, my coworkers bit their lips.

He smiled wider and nodded expectantly. “For lunch,” I said. I doubt he understood. Still holding his gift of food in my hands, I walked towards the back of the store.

Snickering, my coworker followed behind me. “Well, are you going to eat them?” she said.

“Do you want them?” I replied.

“Oh, come on,” she continued. “I dare you to eat one.”

Eh. It wasn’t half-bad.

 

 

Short Story-Drop by Drop

Here’s another little vignette starring rockabilly vampire hunter Alex Rains, star of the soon to be released novel  The Devil’s Mouth.

Terry leaned sideways across the armrest of the old couch, one hand behind his head and the other across the back of the couch, holding a lit cigarette between two fingers. His mohawk wasn’t done up, and the blonde stripe of hair fell down to one side. He was shirtless, and had a skull tattoo over his heart.

Amber leaned into Terry, her head against his bare chest. Her tank top rucked up over her lean belly, revealing a bangly navel piercing. She readjusted and scooted higher upon him, her knees tucked up close.

The little house was dark, only lit by the TV.

“Babe,” said Terry, “I’m hungry.”

“I know,” she replied, playing with his hair. “But I can’t do it again. Not this soon.”

“Oh come on, just a little bit.”

“No, Terry. I can’t. I’m still dizzy from last time.”

“But I love you.”

“I love you too.”

Terry picked up the TV remote from amongst the mess on the coffee table and changed the channel. “But baaaaabe, I’m hungry.

“You just ate yesterday.” She rubbed her hand against his bony chest. “You said you’d be good for three days.”

“But I’m hungry now.”

“You know I can’t do it again so soon.”

Terry took a drag off his cigarette. “I don’t see why you have to be such a bitch about it.”

“Come on, Terry. I love you.”

“I’m just kidding.” He blew out smoke. “Bitch.”

“Don’t say that.” She snuggled against him like a child. “Just love me.”

“I love you even though you’re a bitch.” He tapped ashes onto the floor and then snaked an arm around her shoulders. She sighed contentedly.

Terry leaned in, parting his lips as he neared her neck. “I’ll just take a little bit. Just a pint.”

“No, babe. Please.”

He pulled his lips back, razor sharp fangs slick with saliva. His breath was hot on her neck. “But you taste so good. You know you want it.”

“Please no, Terry, you know what’ll happen.”

“It’ll just hurt for a second.”

“Please don’t.”

“Bitch.” He leaned in, and suddenly his hand was an iron collar around her neck. “You couldn’t stop me. I could just take what I want.” He rested his lips against her neck, and the tips of his fangs just grazed the skin. Her breath hitched.

She squirmed, halfheartedly pushing against his chest. “You know I couldn’t. But you love me.”

Terry grinned. “If you won’t do it, maybe I’ll go find some girl who will. Maybe I won’t be so nice to her. What about your sister?” Still holding her fast, he leaned forward and dropped his cigarette butt into one of the empty beer bottles on the coffee table.

She grimaced, and her voice was a childlike whimper. “Please, babe. I can’t. I’m still sick from last time.”

“Don’t you love me?”

“You know I do.”

“Well I’m hungry.”

She let out a shuddering sigh. “Okay,” she said. “Just a little bit.”

He smiled gleefully. “I love you, babe!” He released her neck, and slapped her ass as she stood up. “Bitch.”

She walked into the  bedroom and returned with a shoebox, then sat down next to him and opened the lid. He watched hungrily as she took out a length of surgical tubing and tied it around her arm. Amber clenched and unclenched her fist, watching as the veins swelled in her forearm. “Just a little bit, babe.”

He nodded. “I know. Just a little.”

Amber took out a length of plastic tubing, terminating at one end with a needle. She made sure the plastic ratchet clamp was tightened on the tubing, sighed, swallowed, and slipped the needle into her vein.

She undid the tourniquet around her arm. Red flowed up the tube to the clamp and stopped. She took a length of tape and secured the needle in place, then put the other end of the hose into a simple drinking glass.

“Hurry up, babe.”

“Almost there, Terry.” She released the clamp. Red flowed and looped through the clear plastic hose, sputtering and pouring out into the glass. She watched the level carefully, her fingers hovering over the tube clamp.

At about two fingers, she reached for the clamp.

“Wait,” said Terry. He held her wrist. “Just a little more.”

“No, babe, it’s too much.”

His eyes narrowed. “Who fucking cares.”

“Babe…” She made to sit up, and he pinned her down with a hand around her throat. Careful not to disturb the hose, he straddled her, holding her down with his weight. She struggled and he held her fast. “Babe, please.”

He screwed his face up into a parody of hers, “Babe, please,” he whined.

The level of blood in the glass still rose.

Her eyes fluttered. Her skin grew pale and clammy. She tried to fight him, but could not. Tears flowed down her cheeks.

“You know what, I’m fucking sick of you.” The glass brimmed, and Terry took the hose and popped the bloody end into his mouth. “You know why I never bit you? It’s cause I wouldn’t want you to be a vampire. The thought of listening to you whine for eternity makes me want to fucking kill myself.”

“Babe…”

“Say goodnight, bitch. I think you’ll be a better lay after you’re dead.”

Her fingers trembled and twitched.

A shotgun blast shattered the stillness of the summer night. The doorknob of the tiny house spun across the room and put a divot in the drywall. The cheap hollow core door, mortally wounded, twisted on its hinges.

The man in the white cowboy hat racked another shell into the shotgun as he kicked the remains of the door away. He wore a gaudy Hawaiian print shirt, unbuttoned, with a white tee shirt underneath. A Japanese sword hung at his waist. His eyes were dark as the shadow of a tombstone. He levelled the shotgun at Terry.

Terry spun Amber around as a shield and cowered behind her. She hung limply in his grip, her head lolling over his fist. “Who the fuck are you, man?”

“Boy, I’m the fucking grim reaper.”

Terry’s eyes danced around the room, searching for escape. “I’ll fucking kill her, I swear to God.”

“Looks to me like you already did.”

“Are you sure of that, asshole?”

“Seems she’d be dead either way. And really, what’s one more? See, I been lookin’ for you, boy. Been followin’ you since Taos. I know about all of them. Jessica. Sarah. Bethany. Rachel. In the big scheme of things, one more don’t matter to me. What matters to me is putting your punk vampire ass in the ground for good, and that’s gonna happen one way or another.”

“Then why don’t you just shoot through her, asshole?” Terry laughed, “Yeah, that’s what I though. You fucking pussy.”

Amber’s eyes fluttered open. She reached her hand around and seized the tube protruding from her arm. In one smooth motion, she ripped it free and jammed the needle, still spurting blood, into her lover’s eye.

Terry screamed and let go of her throat as he brought his hands to his face. She fell to the ground.

In an eyeblink, The vampire hunter fired. Terry’s head, from the nose up, ceased to exist. A red mess decorated the far wall. His body fell headlong over the couch, coming to rest at an obscene angle, legs dangling crazily in the air. Amber sunk to her knees and sobbed once.

“Easy there, little darlin’.” Alex drew his sword as he approached Terry. “It’s all over now. You best look away.”

She didn’t look away.

The Perks of Being a Bookworm

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I was generally a pretty good kid. Generally. Mostly, because almost every time I’d try doing something bad, the universe would rain down massive, fiery karmic retaliation upon me. In other words, I’d get caught. But one time I got away with it, because I was a giant nerd.

For the most part, I just read a lot. Hard to get in much trouble when you’ve got your head buried in a book. Lunches, recesses, classtimes, on the bus, I’d be reading. I’d sit in the back of class, pretending to be paying attention or doing schoolwork, all the while with a book on my lap. Most of my teachers, bless their hearts, pretended like they didn’t notice. I thought I was pretty sneaky at the time, but in retrospect I think they were just glad somebody was reading. So, I had a well-deserved reputation as something of a bookworm.

But every once in a while, I’d get a crazy idea in my head. I’d sow my oats. I’d really cut loose and do something wild.

Like flipping the bird to a road construction worker.

Party animal, right? Of course, this was in the second grade, when living dangerously meant sneaking your vegetables off your plate and feeding them to the dog.

But anyway, I was riding the school bus home, one fine day, and we passed by a group of county workers in reflective vests and hard hats, doing some road maintenance. My friend (whose name I forget, but let’s call him John) and I thought, for second-grader reasons, that it would be the coolest thing in the world if we flipped off these grown-ass men who were out doing their jobs. But, criminal masterminds that we were, we would hide our faces by crouching down below the level of the bus window, and hold our hands above our heads, middle fingers raised, like some kind of obscene puppeteers.

And so we did. The bus approached the road construction. We scrunched down in our seats and raised our little hands aloft, flipping the unicorn at these poor unsuspecting schlubs who were just out doing their jobs, who hadn’t done anything to warrant being disrespected by two nerdy eight year olds at three fifteen on a Tuesday afternoon.

We waved our digitorum impudens around, giggling all the while, until the bus moved past. A clean getaway. The perfect crime. We were so cool.

I should have known, there’s no such thing as a perfect crime. There we were, sitting on those smelly green vinyl bus seats, when a white county truck pulled up behind the bus, flashing its yellow light bar. My friend and I exchanged panicked looks.

The bus screeched to a stop. The hydraulic bus door honked open. And then, clomp, clomp, clomp, a great big angry grownup in a hard hat climbed up the bus steps and stared coolly up and down the aisles of the school bus.

To the bus driver, he said, “I’m sorry to bother you, but we were just working by the side of the road, and when you drove by, some kids on this bus flipped us off.”

I took a deep breath and reminded myself: we’d taken precautions for just this sort of situations. We’d scrunched down. We were criminal masterminds. Nothing to worry about.

“Whoever did it was scrunched down in their seats,” said the road worker, “so I couldn’t see their faces. But I saw the top of one head, and it looked just…like…him.”

A great big meaty calloused old grownup finger pointed directly at me.

My sphincter clenched tighter than a submarine door. I broke out into a flop sweat. I trembled. I gazed back at that finger like I was staring down the barrel of a loaded shotgun.

I should point out that at this point in my life I had what could kindly be described as a flattop. I thought it made me look like Val Kilmer in Top Gun. In retrospect, I looked more like a bucktoothed hedgehog. In any case, it was a pretty distinctive haircut. Certainly nobody else on the bus had the same cut. It was just the sort of thing that would make the top three inches of someone’s head immediately identifiable.

The moment stretched out forever. I’m busted, I thought, boned, hosed. The jig is up. I’m going up the river. I hear if you just confess they’ll be lenient. I can cop a plea. Maybe I can turn in my accomplice for a reduced sentence. I wonder what prison food tastes like.

And then the bus driver let out an incredulous laugh. “Matt?” she said, “You’ve got to be mistaken. It couldn’t have been Matt. He just sits there and reads all day.”

“Not Matt,” said Heather, the girl across the aisle from me, “he’s a bookworm.”

“He just has his face buried in a book all day.” added David, sitting next to Heather.

“All that dork does is read,” called out Travis, from the back of the bus.

The entire bus rose to my defense, declaring that I was such a nerdy little bookworm that there’s no way I could have ever committed the crime of which I’d been accused.

I just sat there and tried to look angelic.

His confidence shaken, the road worker looked around at the other faces on the bus. “Well…” he said, “then I’m not sure.” He’d lost his momentum. He looked up and down the aisles one more time, mumbled something about respect, and then left the bus.

And I got away scott-free. What’s the moral of the story? I don’t know, maybe: Don’t flip off total strangers. Or maybe, the moral is that you don’t know what kind of black and twisted criminal heart beats within the chest of a nerdy goody two-shoes bookworm. Or maybe it’s that if you’re going to be guilty, it’s a good idea to look innocent.

 

 

 

Microfiction-Cold Comfort

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The president faced the cameras. “My fellow Americans. We’ve all heard the rumors. Let me assure you, they are completely false. We are in no danger whatsoever. NASA has assured me that the asteroid will miss the earth by a wide margin. Everything is fine. I repeat, there’s nothing to worry about.”

The cameras shut off. The president loosened his necktie and poured himself a glass of scotch. He raised his drink to the room. “Not long now. It’s been a pleasure knowing you all. God help us.”

He emptied the glass in one swig, grimaced, and poured another.

My secret teenage shame

I hung out with the gothic kids in high school. Black tee-shirts. Doc Martens. Heavy metal. Righteous alienation. We were angry, depressed, rebellious. We hated everyone. We scowled.

Music was loud and angry. Nirvana. Smashing Pumpkins. Type O Negative. Marilyn Manson. White Zombie. Deftones. Rammstein. Metallica. We wore our teenage disaffection on our sleeves.

You know how it is. You fall in with a group of kids. The consensus determines what’s cool and what isn’t. You quietly conform. You listen to what your friends listen to. You like what they like. You wear what they wear. If you have disagreements, you keep them to yourself.

Which is why I never told my friends that after a long day of scowling at the mall, loitering at hot topic, demonstrating our nonconformity by making a giant fucking mess at our table at Carl’s Jr, I’d go home, slip on my headphones…and rock out to Bruce Springsteen.

Yeah, that Bruce Springsteen. Like many artists, something weird happened to him in the eighties, but if you’ve never listened to his earlier albums like “Born To Run” or “Greetings from Asbury Park, New Jersey” do yourself a favor.

It was the cover to “Born to Run” that sold me. I found it, originally, in a stack of LPs that my older brother got for free someplace, hidden between the Sabbaths and the Zeppelins. I don’t know why by brother even had them, since this was well past the record player era. I suppose the men in my family never could pass up free. Anyway, something about that pose, that guitar, that leather jacket. It called to me. I pulled out that warped old record and put it on my parents dusty record player.

And then I heard it. The piano, the harmonica. And Bruce’s inimitable voice.

The screen door slams
Mary’s dress sways
Like a vision she dances across the porch
As the radio plays
Roy Orbison singing for the lonely
Hey that’s me and I want you only
Don’t turn me home again
I just can’t face myself alone again

Poetry.

How could I explain to them, my tragically cool friends, how Springsteen spoke to my teenage angst, to this unformed yearning in my heart, better than Nirvana or Manson ever could?

Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a place in my heart for the Deftones and Tool and Nine inch Nails. But at some point I got tired of being so angry and depressed all the time. Nine inch Nails was just wrist-slitting music, but in Springsteen there was hope. There was this pull, this desire to go and find something better, to just get up and go.

When I got my first car, I loaded up and went on my first solo road trip, blasting Springsteen and singing along to every word…and then I crashed and had to call my parents to come rescue me. Thunder Road, indeed. But that secret teenage shame is a whole other story.

Bonus Springsteen:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Six Word Fiction Day

Inspired by a few other bloggers, also too lazy to write a full blog post today, I’m gonna try out this whole six word fiction thing. Here goes nothin’…

***

Then the world exploded. The end.

***

“Shouldn’t have left the baby there…”

***

“My love is the sea. And heroin.”

Author’s note: Oops, this is seven words. Let me try that again.

“My lover is the sea. Lion.”

***

“Cut the red wire, right?” Boom.

***

The applause turned to horrified screams.

***

He spread his wings and died.

***

“Oh my God he ate it.”

***

“You’re bluffing.”

“Afraid not.”

“Well, shit.”

***

“I wasn’t completely honest with you…”

***

“But flipping off cops is legal!”

Guest Post-How Starship Troopers Landed Us on Placer County’s Most Wanted List-Part Two

If you have not done so, please read part one, in which our heroes commit vehicular vandalism of trash cans, generally act like jackasses, and hurry to arrive at the theater on time to see Paul Verhoeven’s seminal masterwork, Starship Troopers.

By Peter Kimmich

There we were, trapped. One wrong turn, and we found ourselves going completely in the wrong direction. The theater, our destination, was behind us. The clock was ticking. Starship Troopers was going to start in mere minutes. We did not have time for this shit.

The road we found ourselves on had two lanes in each direction, divided by a double yellow line. Following it to the next light and turning around would have taken longer than we had, especially since those urban planning geniuses often lead drivers through two or three lights and into random parking lots before allowing a u-turn. No, the safest bet was to flip an illegal u-turn then and there. Obviously.

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No way were we missing one second of this masterpiece.

At this moment the town was buzzing with placid yuppies on their way to coffee shops to meet friends, to bland chain restaurants for dinner, to blind dates set up through coworkers, to evening shopping mall trips, and home to cook for their families. And in the midst of it all was a huge blue Ford with a gurgling muffler, an aluminum camper shell and seven or so teens crammed inside with two bean bag chairs and a disco ball, blasting White Zombie on the stereo. Matt checked his mirrors and blind spot (safety first), cranked the wheel, and guided the truck into a free-range u-turn across two lanes of unsuspecting traffic.

Unfortunately the truck’s naval destroyer handling gave it an extra-wide turning radius, and our course looked to take us onto the opposite shoulder. Which would have been fine, except that on the shoulder, directly in our path and stretching from the sidewalk to the traffic lane, was a white construction barricade with yellow reflectors and a sign reading “End.” There was no hint of construction anywhere, as if the thing were placed there, rigid and authoritarian, by urban planners forecasting this exact scenario. Evidently, they wanted this stunt to end.

Three minutes until the movie started. Three seconds before impact, and the wheel was cranked as far as it would go. No time to back up and take another run at it. This was fate. It was the only way. Matt shrugged and held the wheel steady.

“I hope that’s not steel,” he said reassuringly.

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It was basically exactly like this.

Those words would be immortalized in senior quote Valhalla, standing for teenage bravado and, in general, just not giving a fuck.

The barricade splintered like balsa wood, disintegrating with a loud CRACK and littering the street with white, reflective toothpick shrapnel. Matt grinned like he had just won a boxing match of sorts. The hyenas in the back went ballistic. A yuppie in a BMW frantically beeped his horn in a Samaritan attempt to pull us over. We ignored him.

Three minutes and thirty seconds later we were in our seats, snacks and sodas in hand. The outside world, including our list of ruined property thus far, could go screw itself.

After the movie, we headed back to our shitty little town, where we sat around on the bleachers at the local community pool, recapping the night. If there was anything else for teenagers to do after dark in that town, we would have been doing it. But there wasn’t. So there we sat. We all agreed that the movie had violence and boobs, so it was pretty great. The whole garbage can thing was spectacular.

Unbeknownst to us, the garbage cans of the town were intent on getting even. There were three of them, the metal kind Oscar the Grouch hangs out in, floating right there in the swimming pool. We had no idea how they got there, in fact had barely noticed them. But the two sheriff’s deputies in the squad car parked under the trees nearby, they had an idea.

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“Does your daddy beat you, boy?” Actual words said by actual sheriff’s deputy, while he dipped chewing tobacco. Spoken to Matt, who was in the back seat of said deputy’s patrol car.

Before we knew it, it was an episode of Cops. The officers rolled up to the group of juvenile delinquents, obviously the ones responsible for tossing garbage cans into the pool amid god knows what other atrocities. The town deserved its justice.

On cop shows, the bad guys are always pressed up against a wall, arms and legs spread, while officers pat them down and ask intimidating, loaded questions. Reality, as it turns out, is exactly like that. Apparently a group of teenagers matching our description had been seen at that exact spot vandalizing everything, according to some convenient witness who happened to be driving down that very same dark, dead-end street an hour earlier. And it made perfect sense that these teenagers would stick around for an hour and wait to be caught. In cop logic, I guess if the glove doesn’t fit, you should try to convince the hand that someone saw it fit in case it decides to change its story.

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“We hope you kids have learned a valuable lesson: Always remember to fear and distrust law enforcement.”

After keeping us up well past our bedtimes, they eventually let us go. They had nothing, and besides, some kid named Frank was getting into a fight somewhere. But from this altercation I learned three things: 1) Shut up. Just shut the fuck up about everything you know. You don’t know anything. 2) Police officers will lie to your face as a basic interrogation tactic, including telling you that all of your friends have ratted you out. They will even do this when you are the first suspect they question. 3) Being a kid out late is sometimes all they need to hold you in the back of a police car for an hour and a half and turn your whole night upside down. But we probably deserved it.

Epilogue

Some months later, Matt and I were touring the county jail with our martial arts class, courtesy of an instructor who also worked as a guard. Along the way we dropped by an administrative office to be introduced to some officers. One of them glared at Matt and demonstrated an impressive memory for trumped-up BS.

“You’re the one with the garbage cans in the pool, right?”

Out of all the unscrupulous crap we’d done that night or on any other occasion, the one crime that made it into a computer was one we hadn’t even committed. At least Matt handled it with the cool wit of a seasoned criminal. He grinned back at the officer.

“Allegedly.”