“You cannot do the sleep in our parking lot, Austin.”
I rub my sore head and peek through the camper’s wallet-size plastic rear window. Either it’s still dark outside or my brain is beginning to swell.
“I say this a hundred times.” Cruz shouts. “You do not listen. So now I say this...if you use our parking spaces for the bedroom again, I will rat you to the federales.”
Cruz certainly has an edge on him this morning. Central New Jersey being so much colder than his former home near Vera Cruz, Mexico, I suspect it’s the fall weather. Most cool days he doesn’t even bother coming outside, let alone threaten police action. Wait until New Jersey sees some snow.
I open the back door and give Chef Cruz the famous, full-boat Carr grin. “Speaking of rats, amigo, can I shower in the employee dressing room?”
Why is divorced dad Austin Carr -- that’s me – waking up in a beat-up camper, parked on someone else’s private property? Let me take you to the 'Splaining Department: My alimony and child support payments were established by New Jersey’s family court system during times considerably more lucrative – like when my income was double -- and for the last two years I have failed to earn my legally mandated monthly nut. I’ve had my savings drained, my Maxima repossessed, and my visiting rights suspended. I bought my twelve-year-old Chevy pick-up with the rusty camper for $800 last month because another landlord tossed my butt in the street.
This is not a great life, especially not being able to visit my kids. What really are fathers for? And being the main character in a mystery series, I’ve always wanted to personally harass this bozo author Jack Getze who made my life one disaster after another. Finally, thanks to Dru’s Book Musings (where a version of this amalgamation of novel and interview first appeared), I have been given the opportunity. Look out, Getze, whom his family and I call The Famous Author (TFA) because he is so NOT.
Austin: I understand a character like myself wasn’t really born, omniscient one, but where exactly did I come from? And why stick me with a silly name like Austin Carr?
TFA: You are a product of my distaste for a certain environment – telephone sales as experienced inside a third-rate investment company on the Jersey Shore. The people were nice, the primary product municipal bonds a decent investment, but this joint was as far from Wall Street as the University of California at Berkeley. I wanted a slightly shady character who succeeded with his mouth and his charm, not his fists, and I created him from a room full of guys on the telephone, pleading and begging for a sale.
A: I’m shady?
T: You break rules and regulations for that rich pretty redhead, remember?
A: What about the name?
T: Your name is a fluke. I thought I made it up, but turns out Austin Carr is a famous basketball player from the 1970s and 80s. All-American for Notre Dame. First overall draft pick. Still has a radio show about basketball in the Midwest. I would never say this in front him -- a six-foot-ten athlete -- but I was looking for something a little silly, and my brain must have regurgitated Austin Carr from the old basketball headlines. Luckily, names are like titles when it comes to books.
A: Do you make a lot of mistakes?
T: At least one bad error a day. Agreeing to let you ask me questions was obviously today’s.
A: And which day was the mistake made about me being a stockbroker? After the market crashes of 2001, and 2008-09, the Wall Street-led surge in joblessness, how on earth did you imagine a series with a broker protagonist might work?
T: Pretty dumb, huh? Refusing to read my manuscript, I’ve heard editors actually laugh at the idea. One said in an email she’d be fired if she bought any manuscript with a stockbroker protagonist. The thing is, Austin, telephone securities sales was something this writer knew well – and more than that, something I wanted to write about. Working on 100% commission is a terrible way to give financial advice, but funny in application because of the people involved, and symbolic of our system’s worst parts. Also, of course, I wanted to cause you the most suffering.
A: Suffering? Gee, what a nice guy. Do you mistreat animals?
T: I love animals. I have a dog named Maddy, a cat named Miss Kitty, and I carry spiders outside on a sheet of paper. But you, sir, are a fictional character, and good fiction is about conflict. My job as a writer is to work you over, scare you, test you by putting you in difficult situations, all the while entertaining our readers. Don’t worry, you handle everything -- everything except that giant bluefin at the climax.
A: Did you tell Dru BIG NUMBERS is not exactly a cozy?
T. I sent her a copy.
A. That’s not the same thing. Maybe you’d better describe the parts of BIG NUMBERS that stick out a little from that cozy mold. Ha ha.
T. The three sex scenes are played for laughs – and short, like my real life. People actually die on the page, but the violence is minimal and not gory. There are a handful of four-letter words scattered throughout because I refuse to have a low-life criminal say, “Oh, fudge.” It’s almost a cozy.
A. Almost a cozy? Are you kidding me? Your new book description on Amazon says, “Root for divorced dad Austin Carr, a lovable, oversexed scamp who'll use anything and everything to get his kids back. Think Bugs Bunny with guns and a penis.”
T. That's been changed now. Jeez. I’m so glad I agreed to this interview. You’re killing me, Austin. Killing me! But honestly, you’re the one who’s always thinking about sex, making suggestive remarks, falling in love with every redhead you meet. Why can’t you grow up?
A. Me? You’re the one who writes this stuff. I’m a fictional character!
T. OK, that’s it. I’m out of here.
Former Los Angeles Times reporter Jack Getze is Fiction Editor for Anthony nominated Spinetingler Magazine, one of the internet's oldest websites for noir, crime, and horror short stories. His screwball mysteries, BIG NUMBERS, BIG MONEY, and BIG MOJO are being published this year and next by Down and Out Books. His short stories have appeared in A Twist of Noir, Beat to a Pulp, Passages, and (coming in December) The Big Adios. He lives in New Jersey and makes his own tacos.