Eddie tended to drift into whatever jobs were available that would pay the rent. The rent itself was a modest sum of $85 per week at the Gizzard Shad Motel, right on the marina at Lake Pangea. Local discount. Still, this was winter, and odd jobs were scarce. Most handyman projects were being put off until spring, and those that couldn’t wait were already finished. No one was even hiring on cutters for firewood anymore (that dried up two weeks ago). There were no leaves left to rake, and tourist season was fully three months away. Plus, Eddie had a few habits that stood in line ahead of rent and groceries. But he could quit those whenever he wanted. In the meantime, however, regular jobs that got too nosy into a man’s personal life were out of the question. So here it was: another winter of ramen noodles and fast talking. That was okay. People still rooted for Eddie, which meant his promises still found a few open ears, and ramen isn’t too bad if you get creative with it. Maybe add in a little cayenne pepper.

Eddie was the third son of Clem Jenkins, and he had always seemed to turn left in life when either going straight or turning right would have made more sense. Clem never really talked about it, but Shippley, Missouri has very few secrets. Everyone knew that Clem should have retired from Lexington Sawmill years ago, when his back finally gave out and three vertebrae had to be fused. But the man had no means to do so, and bailing Eddie out of various jackpots was the biggest factor. In fact, rather than retiring, Clem started taking on clients as a Pangea bass fishing guide. Two nights a week and Saturdays.

The townspeople never thought much of Eddie, but Clem was a well-respected man in Shippley, and so Stan Phelps, the proprietor of the Gizzard Shad, tried to work with Eddie as best he could. Most weeks, he did manage to come up with his rent, albeit gathered into a handful of crumpled small bills dug out of his front jeans pockets. But not always. At present, he was already a full two weeks behind, and he had only managed to scrape together $63.27 for the coming week. He was all set to draft his cardboard sign and head over to the traffic light on Stoneglen Avenue, right in front of the Nothing Significant Diner. Probably would have done just that, if not for the knock on his door early this morning.

That knock was also likely responsible for saving at least Eddie’s eyesight, if not his life entirely. Someone once told him that a person could safely drink a bottle of rubbing alcohol if it were first poured through a loaf of bread as a filter. He knew it was absurd. Told his buddy so, when he first heard that story. But times were tough, and Hamilton’s Drug Store sold both bread and isopropyl for less than $1.50 combined. It had come to that. A man can talk himself into believing he has nothing left to lose in a matter of minutes, should he be inclined to attempt something genuinely stupid. Besides, he was not about to go begging on a street corner sober.

This was not so much out of pride, but more for fear of what would happen if Clem ran up on him in his truck. That piercing look could melt any mountain of half-baked logic instantly; it was Clem’s super power. This had always been true, spanning Eddie’s complete childhood. Over and over again. What had made perfect sense just two seconds before was now clearly ridiculous, and all Eddie could do would be to stand there and stammer, a hammer in one hand, Grandpa’s broken radio in the other. Begging would be a new low (like drinking rubbing alcohol), and Clem would probably throw a blood clot over it. Even if his daddy didn’t actually witness the spectacle for himself, the boys at the diner would be sure to fill him in with elaborate detail. Luckily, the knock kept him from having to do either.

He sat in his boxers trying to balance the sliced bread atop an empty Quantum Gulp! cup. The complimentary cable TV was on, blaring a continuous 60-minute loop of the same sports highlights. “LeBron made him look sick!” was announced at 13 past every hour. It had already gone around the horn twice, and it would make its third orbit soon. In less than three minutes, actually. He wasn’t listening, anyway.

For a man with few possessions outside of a storage unit, Eddie had done a very impressive job of turning his modest motel room into a pigsty. There was a laughably inadequate wastebasket underneath the counter sink, and it was piled high and spilling over, like a triple-scoop cone made by an apprentice. Every spent pizza box (from former days of comparatively high cotton) was still present inside the room. Greasy circles caked with stubborn cheese or discarded crusts. Fountain drinks, more than a dozen, sat around in various stages of structural failure while giving life to new colonies of spores. And for every fountain drink cup, there must have been five beer cans, some used as ashtrays, now erupting with stale butts and great cascading carcinogenic ash drifts.

Those collection agencies that were shrewd enough to track his whereabouts to the motel had sent volleys of empty threats to the main office address. Every so often, Barry at the front desk would open the door just wide enough to throw in the latest stack of hate mail and then slam the door before the stench could discover the way out. Such envelopes lay unopened and undisturbed on the shag, like decaying leaves on the floor of an old forest. Could be the Gizzard Shad let him float the rent on more than one occasion to save themselves the burden of cleaning. Brenda, with her little trolley of towels, fitted sheets, and spray bottles, would never be up to the challenge.

In any event, it wasn’t much, but it was Eddie’s kingdom. For now, at least. And thus arrayed in splendor, His Majesty sat upon his Naugahyde throne on this morning, robed in a fine wife beater, inside his wood-paneled palace, determined to drink from his kingly bowl. But then the knock came, just before he could puncture the foil safety seal on the bottle with his room key. Red plastic diamond-shaped tagger hanging off with “19” written in Sharpie.

Sigh. “Damn it.”

He figured it was probably just Stan coming to recap for both of them what each man knew separately well enough: Eddie, you’re almost three weeks late now. This ain’t no free ride, son! It had been maybe two days since last he heard it. Stan owed Clem several favors. Or, at least he did once, before Eddie managed to burn through them all and rack up an impressive debt besides. He hated confrontation, Stan, and he would much prefer that Eddie just figure things out, or get out of his own volition. Shack up with some softhearted floosy somewhere. Anything. But no. This was the worst of both worlds. Just enough dollars would seep into Eddie’s possession to make Stan the bad guy, in some circles, if he actually made good on his stern hints and evicted him. But he would never receive anywhere near what was owed or what that room should earn. Eddie knew it, and he knew that Stan had every right to kick his lame ass to the curb. But then again, if Stan didn’t have the guts to stand up for himself, well, that was his problem. Eddie would use the roof over his head until Stan found the testosterone to grow a pair. Maybe today was the day? Maybe that was the reason for the knock. But Eddie doubted it. Stan was a guy who never changed, right down to the way he knocked on doors, and the cadence was all wrong.

The same knock, now a second time.

Eddie noticed that the knock pattern was the same both times. He had taken something the night before (reacquired it from who-knows-where originally, out of a forgotten pocket in his jeans jacket), and it had pretty well worn off by now. Yet it left him fuzzy in the head and a bit detached. Rather than feeling any urgency to answer the door, the second knock struck a philosophical chord, and he began to consider door knocking from a purely academic perspective. He wondered if everyone has a signature knock without realizing it. Like a tell for a gambler, perhaps. What causes a person to stop knocking? When does it “feel right” to the knocker? Some people give three heavy raps; some give five polite taps in quick succession; some idiots still do the whole “Shave and a Haircut” tired bit; some bang on the door like S.W.A.T. is about to pop some purple smoke. What does your door knock say about you? This particular knock sounded a bit…official. Definitely not Stan. The police, maybe? Probably.

Sherriff Bill Adams knew Eddie as well as anyone in town. Of course, he was also friend to Clem Jenkins. There was nowhere to go in Shippley without running into more of those, and this included staying home, minding your own business, and just trying to make some bread-filtered moonshine. All of his dad’s friends wore that same condescending look. That “How can you let your daddy down like this?” look, complete with the matching head shake. And the sheriff wore both accessories for Eddie as far back as he could remember. It probably started that day when he was called in to talk to the twelve-year-old about stealing model glue from Shorty’s Five and Dime. The glue only; no model.

Eddie always thought Adams was the sort who would rather ride around Terrapin County on horseback than having to putter around in his silly county-issue Dodge Charger. He thought of himself as an Old West ranger, more or less, and Eddie wanted very badly to hate him. Adams represented everything that was wrong with Shippley—Terrapin County, for that matter. All of Missouri, probably. Harsh resistance to change. No place for new ideas; no room for his artistic brain to flourish. In one corner of the room sat an acoustic guitar with four strings. Eddie eventually learned to play chords around this limitation; it was easier than buying a new set of strings. Even the ones left on the guitar were worn out, so every so often he would take them off and boil them in a pan of water. That was supposed to do something. But these days, he couldn’t decide whether to keep writing new songs or just pawn the thing for maybe $15. Might as well. This town and this sheriff were holding him back. No one really cared about him. But somehow he knew that Adams actually did care about him, and not just because of his daddy. And he hated that too. Another person to let down. He had never asked for that kind of pressure. And Adams was always stumbling onto things at the wrong time. Made him a very good sheriff. Just turn the corner at the filling station and happen upon a game of craps! He had a sixth sense for that sort of thing. Now here he was, banging on his door again. Catching him not with a hammer and a radio, but rubbing alcohol and a loaf of bread. And with his room in such a disgraceful state. How end-of-the-road can you get? He knew that look was waiting for him on the other side of the door. But maybe it wasn’t Sheriff Adams. Maybe it was one of his godawful brothers.

Lance was a material sciences professor at Missouri Northeast Southern State University (MNESSU) and Pascal was an ER nurse at Terrapin Regional Hospital. They both had lovely wives, and both had smart-ass kids. Scholars and athletes; you name it. Both Lance and Robert had worked very hard to get where they were in life, and none of it had come easily. But you couldn’t tell Eddie that. No; they were both favored by Dad and Silent Mom. They got all the breaks, and they were given everything. If Mom slipped Eddie a twenty, his first thought was “I bet she gave Lance and Pasky a fifty. And they don’t even need it, the bastards!” Anyone should be able to see that Eddie had the real brains of the family. The real talent. But life just wasn’t fair to him. How revolting it was to have to endure lectures from either one of them! To be told by a jealous, lesser intellect that it was time to grow up and conform was really too much to swallow. Like either of them had a clue what true genius was or what it required! If Stephen Hawking had brothers like these two, he’d be a nameless vagabond in a motel room too—but no; “while I’m wasted in Shippley, he fell into the easy life over in the U.K.”

Each brother had a list of blue-collar careers they believed were a suitable match for Eddie’s abilities (since prolonged study in any field was out of the question). They both thought he would make an excellent truck driver, making local deliveries around Shippley. The thought was too insulting to entertain. “A trucker? Me?!” Luckily, a couple of DUIs and a suspended license removed that absurd notion from further discussion. What he needed was money, not more life advice from either of those two jackasses (of course, each brother had given him plenty of both over the years, and both did about the same amount of good). He just needed a break; then he’d show them all. One day they would all pay for their disrespect. His family. The town. The whole county. The list was growing.

A third knock on the door, and a voice this time.

“Mr. Jenkins? [Knock, knock!] “Mr. Clement Edward Jenkins, Jr. Are you in there?”

“Damn it!” Sigh. “I’m coming, you asshole. I’m coming. Let me find my pants, will ya?”

Kicking around the various piles, he managed to unearth a pair of sweatpants that would do the job. He grabbed a flannel shirt from around the back of the kitchenette chair and slung his arms through. Fumbling with the buttons, and misaligning them, he opened the door as far as the chain would allow. Sunlight assaulted his shrunken pupils. He slammed his eyes shut, and negative images burned inside his tightly closed lids.

“Yeah? What? Who the hell is this?”

A man all of five foot five, weighing above 250 and rocking an impressive combover, shouted into his own oversized microphone.

“Clement Edward Jenkins, Jr., I am Harvey Glickman, and I am here to present you with a check for ten million dollars on behalf of Vested Interest Publishing Concern’s annual ‘Now You’re Rich’ Giveaway!”

There was a gigantic novelty check with lots of zeroes, a vehicle that was once a bread van now wrapped in the VIPC logo, a camera crew, cheerleaders kicking and clapping, balloons, and this short, fat man (loud sportcoat) waving around his cartoonish microphone. It was a lot to take in. Eddie said nothing. He scratched his ear and tried to open his eyes. Mr. Glickman became nervous that he was losing his audience, as if this were a live broadcast. Which it was not.

“You see, your grandmother entered our Giveaway…”

“Granny Ethel?”

“Ha! Charming. Yes, ‘Granny Ethel’ entered our contest in your name, and you alone, out of 45 million entries, have won our Benefactor Endowment of $10 million! Isn’t that wonderful?!”

“Is it tax free?”

“Um. Well, no. It is not.”

“Just my luck.” He fumbled for a Camel non-filter. The cameraman squirmed but kept rolling. “What did Granny Ethel win?”

“Um. Well, I suppose she wins by knowing that she made you, her youngest grandson, rich beyond your wildest dreams, m’boy!”

“So she won squat.”


Granny Ethel had been entering this same contest for more than forty years. Mr. Glickman’s numbers had to be inflated, as most people thought such contests ended in the late 90’s. But Granny Ethel was committed to two things: watching her stories, and entering contests. Interested parties were invited to submit as many entries as they liked, and so each year, she filled out a separate clipping for herself, her son, and all three of his sons (as each came along). In the process, she renewed subscriptions to at least ten different magazines every year, assuming the gesture would up her chances. Lance Jenkins had been receiving Boy’s Life every month since the age of ten, his one and only year to belong to the Cub Scouts. Pascal had stacks of Dog Fancy in his garage because Granny Ethel remembered he once had a sheltie named Billy (twenty-five years ago). Clem’s attic contained at least forty back issues of Popular Mechanics yearly “Car of Tomorrow!” editions, which began promising in the 1970’s that we’d all be driving Evel Knievel rockets to the grocery store by now.  The other issues he used for kindling. Eddie finally stopped receiving his Highlights magazines because he had no real place of residence for more than a decade.

And this was far from the only contest Ethel Jenkins entered regularly. She submitted to the Terrapin Times Crossword Challenge every week (Grand Prize, $30), spent $10 each week on Powerball, and she even took up a blind interest in fantasy football, having no idea who any of the players were since the retirement of Y.A. Tittle. But despite all her efforts, Granny Ethel never won anything from any of her contests. Until today, if this even counts.

Eddie had not visited Granny Ethel in eight years.

Stan Phelps came out to see what the commotion was all about. Upon realizing what was taking place, he became twice as demonstrative as Eddie, who still appeared to be soured by the whole disturbance. But slowly, he began to come around to the reality of the thing.

“Eddie! This is wonderful! Wow! I never met anyone who ever won anything before!”

Mr. Glickman’s mic pointed towards Stan.

“Let me stop you right there, Stanley,” said Eddie. He flicked his cigarette butt to the ground. “I know you want your measly $300 or whatever it’s up to now for this shithole…”

Cameraman: “[whispers] He can’t say ‘shithole!’”

Harvey Glickman: [Shrugs]

“…but frankly, I’m tired of you shaking me down for whatever nickels I can manage to rub together. So now, when my ship finally comes in, here you come flapping down from your fat nest like the buzzard you are, expecting to pick at my bones.”

“Eddie! I’m happy for you is all!”

“You mean you’re happy for YOU. Except you can forget it. Ain’t giving you a cryin’ dime! Go ahead, evict me. You’ve wanted to for months now, so do it! You can keep the trash in there against what I owe; I’m gone. There’s a new loaf of bread in there, if you want to make a jam sandwich. Me and Harvey here are going down to the bank to open up a new account.” Turning to Harvey Glickman, “I’m guessing you can’t just sign over that big thing, but you can square me away down at the bank, can’t you?”

“Mr. Jenkins, I am authorized to give you an advancement of fifty-thousand dollars today…”

“Ah, horseshit!”

“…and the rest of the money will be wired to your account within ten days. What an exciting day for you!” The camera came in tighter. “Is there anyone you would like to thank at this moment, Mr. Jenkins?” [whispering] “It makes for a warm soundbite.”

“Um. No. Not really. No one comes to mind. No one has ever done much to help me along when I needed it, and you can see the state I’m livin’ in now because of it. So I guess I can thank everyone for driving me to live in this dump motel. If that’s what you mean.”

The cheerleaders just looked at each other.

“I see. Well, do you have any plans you’d like to share for how you’ll spend all this money?”

“Do I have any plans? Ha! Yeah, you could say that. I’ve got a few plans, alright. First I’m going to buy a fifth of Jack, and then I’m gonna hole up in the best room at the Shippley Hyatt. Catch a shower and a shave maybe. New threads. Eat a big, rare porterhouse with some grilled onions. But after that, I’m going to sit down and get to work, brother. Believe that! I have a whole list of things to do, actually. Most of it will be done right here in my sweet hometown.” He dug around for another non-filter.

“Well, that all sounds splendid!”

“Bet your ass on that, Harvey! It’ll be splendid alright. You, douchebag: keep that camera handy.”

Inside the room, the complimentary cable TV was still blaring away. You could still here the sports broadcaster from the doorway:

“LeBron made him look sick!”