THE FALL GUY
The first hint of trouble was when I
saw the big black Buick roaring down my lane. I didn’t recognize the car, but
the way the guy drove, he was either showing off or too stupid to realize he’d
blow his shocks in six months. Too late, he slammed on the brakes and skidded
to a stop in a spray of gravel, flattening my front gate. It was an old gate,
hanging by a piece of chicken wire, but still...
A few choice
swear words came to my mind, but died when the guy unfolded himself from the
car. Six foot and easily
He wiped the dust off his bumper and
inspected it. That seemed to take forever, as if he was daring me to start
something. I didn’t, even though I could feel my blood beginning to boil.
Finally he shrugged, reached into
his front seat and took out an envelope.
“Are you Cedric Elvis O’Toole?”
I should have just said yes, but I
didn’t like his tone. Besides, I hadn’t been called that in so long I’d almost
forgotten it was my real name. What can I say? My mother had always expected
Elvis to sweep in and marry her, but he died the day I was born. When she got
over her shock, she decided Cedric would make a better name for a doctor anyway.
When you’re from a scrubby back country farm, who was
going to set you straight?
I’ve been calling myself Rick ever
since Barry Mitchell laughed out loud at roll call the first day of
“Who’s asking?” I said instead.
“Jonathan Miller from Hopper, James
and Elliston, Attorneys at law.”
That was my second hint of trouble.
There’s only one law firm in the township, and Hopper and his pals aren’t it.
But before I could even reply, he slapped the fat brown envelope in my hand.
“Consider yourself served.”
“A summons to appear in court.”
I let the envelope fall to the
ground. A million thoughts raced through my head. Had the tax guys finally
caught me? I’m just a simple handyman trying to give myself and my customers a
break on the occasional job. Not the big ones that require permits or
guarantees, just the little fix-its like painting the
shed or repairing the chain saw. I need that couple of bucks way more than the
tax man does.
Mr. Fancy Car smirked. The guy had
no class. Take away the blue suit and the skinny tie, and he was just a goon.
“My job is to deliver it, not read it.”
He was standing there, hands in his pockets, like he was waiting for some answer. I bent down and dusted the thing off. It felt thick enough to hold down a tarp in a gale. I started to sweat. Legal documents, in fact just about any document, made me sweat. But I tried to look
cool as I
tore open the flap and pulled out a stack of papers. They looked very official,
like the ones I got for this piece of scrub when my mother died. She called it
a farm, but no one had been able to grow anything on it except weeds for years.
I could see the guy looking around,
taking in the scrap heap of rusted cars and engine bits all over the yard. I
liked to invent things, and who knew when a broken lawn mower might come in
handy? There were more bits of engine
and metal inside the sheds, and when I ran out of room for my inventions, I
built another shed. The result wasn’t pretty, but it had been a few years since
I’d tried to impress anybody.
I did keep a few chickens and a goat
but they didn’t exactly improve the look of the place. And out back on the
sunny side of the barn, there was a vegetable patch I was pretty proud of. When
you’re an inventor still looking for that big break, you don’t have a lot of
spare cash to throw around in supermarkets.
Thinking about money brought me back
to the papers in my hand. Even without reading them, I knew this was going to
cost me money. I scanned the front page and made out the words plaintiff and
defendant. Then the name in bold letters right in the middle stopped me cold.
I’d just done a job for Jeff
Wilkins. A big job, building a new deck on his fancy waterfront cottage, but
squeezed in just under the size limit. So no permit, no paperwork, no taxes. My
mouth went dry.
I put on some bluster. “What is all
this about? Somebody complained?”
The smirk grew wider. “Don’t you
read the papers? Watch the news?”
“No,” I snapped. I never read the
paper. My jerry-rigged TV antenna did a fine job of getting me the hockey games
and nature shows I liked to watch, but I never bothered with the news. Who
wanted to know what big city drug dealers and snake oil politicians were up to
Then he said the words I was most
afraid of hearing.
“You might want to get yourself a