The GHOST COACH – as real as you think it is
Imagine an old automobile, a car worth millions, lost and forgotten in NY.
Legendary con man Leroy Logan doesn’t have to imagine—he created the story himself, decades ago. Now he’s ready to cash in.
With Dani Silver, the grifter’s daughter, Leroy’s got a plan to skim millions. It’s a sure thing…until the homicidal loan shark horns in…and the crooked attorney who sees a way to take it all away.
Can Dani and her crew of misfits pull off the con of the century? Doesn’t seem likely, does it?
Targeted Age Group:: 18 and up
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
Think “The Sting” or “Ocean’s Eleven” or the British television series “Hustle” and you’ve got the idea.
Why con artists? Because a con man (short for confidence man) will do or say anything. Imagine having the freedom to quit your job, sell everything and move to Tahiti, make up a resume that says you’re a reporter or a lawyer or an airline pilot—and go out and get the job.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
My characters aren’t secret agents or trained ex-Navy Seals, there isn’t a lot of violence or sex. There are a lot of puns and odd similes and the desire to take the reader where they’ve never been before.
Dani Makes a Deal
The problem with a small town is that the same guy who tried to pick you up last Friday night at the Hoot ‘n’ Holler will likely be the guy trying to sell you that new yellow Prius at the October Toyotathon.
“Mona!” He greeted me, that being the name I gave him—and everyone else—here in the tiny hamlet of Jamestown, Missouri. I couldn’t tell if the enthusiasm was for Mona the potential date or Mona the potential commission. Either way his smile lit up the night like a bug-zapper when he saw me next to the car. “Looking to buy some new wheels?”
I was, since my last car, a perfectly restored ’64 ½ Mustang convertible, had been towed to a wrecking yard in New Orleans, victim to too much trust on my part and too little sense on Marcy’s. Drugs and alcohol contributed; hers—I don’t do drugs. My little car was DOA.
Hence the evening visit to Burt’s Auto World on the corner of Packer Blvd and County Road 119. I was bored and needed to do something impulsive. And I needed a car.
Matt Langly, car salesman and bar troller, rolled his eyes at the Prius and tried to steer me to an enormous dim green SUV, a car with all the charm of a box of weeds. I herded him back to the Prius.
“What’s your best price?” I asked.
Matt cocked his head like a sparrow or a slave auctioneer sizing me up for market. “Well, this is your lucky day, Mona.” He touched my elbow to lead me closer to the office, a tactic used by sales people and con artist alike. Also, by preachers and politicians. If there’s a difference, I’ve never been able to tell.
Matt said, “Little Lady, I’m sure we can come to a price you’re gonna love. If you’ll just step into my office?” said the spider to the fly.
I was also sure we’d come to a price I loved because I was a con artist, trained by the best in the business; my father, Leroy Logan. Eating people like Matt Langly had been our full-time meals for a long, long time. As we entered his office, a cubicle only slightly larger than my proposed Toyota, Matt was already rubbing his hands with anticipation.
I could see him totaling numbers, already convinced he had the sale and a sizable markup as well. I was, after all, ‘the little lady.’ Fresh meat to a hungry shark.
I sat, he leaned on the counter to better look superior, offer pad held ready in expectation. “So,” he said, pencil poised, “what kind of payments do you have in mind?”
“Cash.” This was first misstep in a complicated dance, but Matt recovered nicely, painting the smile back almost before I saw it slip.
“But,” he said patiently, “it’s a forty-thousand-dollar car.”
“No, it isn’t,” I said. “MSRP is forty-three-five. Your advertised price is Thirty-seven-nine. You’ll let it go, for cash, at twenty-eight even.” I smiled my best Sunday-go-to meeting-smile, the one that left them breathless with desire.
Matt’s smile never wavered. “That’s below our cost.” He chuckled, always amused at the ways of women. “I can offer you an interest rate of only one-point nine percent. Or a discount of…” he paused, looked reverential and breathed out in wonder, “six thousand dollars.” The amazed expression was almost sincere.
I said, “If I bought this car, Matt, how much would you get as a commission?”
Frowning, he said, “I don’t understand.”
“Your commission, Matt; how much.” I knew how much. I’d been at the Hoot ‘n Holler specifically looking for him. Matt Langly had been fishing that night but so had I. As he sized me up as a potential meal, I had appraised him in turn. A greedy man, I determined, with an appetite that was never satisfied. When I turned down his sexual advances he had easily drifted away, certain that he’d find another.
It was that hunger for more that I was playing here. I had learned, in my lifelong experiences as a con artist, that people who crave more than they deserve, or need are the easiest marks. Matt, I saw, from the slight sheen of perspiration on his upper lip, sensed profit.
I said, “Let’s go back and look at the car, shall we?” and he followed like a hound on a scent. Inside the Toyota, the black bucket seat snuggling around me like a comforter and that new car smell overpowering even the scent of money, I took an envelope from my purse and began counting out one hundred-dollar bills on the console. I noted that there were two cup holders, which pleased me. I liked my coffee when I drive.
Matt said weakly, “What are you doing,” but stared as I got to fifteen bills and stopped. “The car,” he said, swallowing, “costs…”
I counted out another five bills and put my wallet away. Matt stared at the money, sighed, and came to a decision. He scooped up the bills as smoothly as any dealer in Vegas clearing the table.
He said, “Shall we get to the paperwork?”
That, I thought, as I drove away in my new Prius, as yellow as the sun on a new morning, was fun.
Fun is another thing that doesn’t last a long time in a small town. At least if you’re a big city girl like me, raised in the bustling center of New Orleans. I missed the crowds, I wanted the opportunities afforded by a lot of people all bent on getting something for nothing. I wanted some excitement.
Dammit; I wanted Nick.
I drove, far too fast down a country lane just like the other four country lanes that led out of Jamestown, north to Bodkin’s Corner, south to Harper, west to Plymouth and east into the blinding sun. Nick Kuiper, multi-millionaire businessman, philanthropist and general all around swell guy and I had been lovers, not so long ago in New York City. I met him when this rich family tried to swindle his company and I helped him swindle it back.
We celebrated by him proposing marriage, offering me luxury, love, security and peace, but not freedom. Marrying Nick, it was implied, meant giving up my larcenous streak.
It meant giving up my freedom. My answer, I am ashamed to say, was to steal the six hundred thousand dollars we had scammed from the bad guys, along with an additional six hundred grand Nick had put up as a convincer. Driving along these arrow straight gently rolling roads in middle America I felt a small sense of guilt over that.
But I had, in my way, made it up to him by proposing a game. I would hide from him and Nick could find me. If he did, I’d be his, a prize in a game of hide and seek. If I kept the game going long enough to work through my issues of freedom/matrimony, a struggle faced by more women than anyone realizes, I would, I hoped, get to the point of wanting to be with him.
So, I moved here to Jamestown, Missouri, bought a house under an assumed name, hid my tracks with amazing ingenuity and waited for Nick to make an appearance. I had been waiting now for six months and was getting bored and a little angry.
I mean, the man was a millionaire; how hard could it be to track a single woman in a red Mustang with two fat suitcases full of cash? Sure, I’d avoided the usual mistakes; no credit cards to leave a trail, no airplanes to record my real name. I had avoided speeding and stayed out of trouble, except for a little scam down in Louisiana.
Or that lottery scam with my ex-neighbor and lost friend Marcy. I thought of her; a mousy young woman I’d taken under my wing after her brute of a husband beat her up. I’d stung Brock, the husband, pretty hard, making him believe he’d won the state lottery. The following train wreck, when he quit his job, left his wife and insulted everyone on national television had been his own doing.
But Marcy couldn’t handle independence and gotten involved with a creep as bad as Brock, a no-account jackass named Jiggs Roche. The last time I’d seen Marcy she was trying to decide which of these idiots she was going to throw her life away with.
Not that I’m bitter, mind you, but did she have to take my car with her? To say nothing of nearly getting me arrested and blowing the long con I’d been setting up for weeks.
“Not hardly,” I said aloud. My voice sounded small in the cool breeze pouring in the open window. I began to wonder, for the first time, just how hard Nick was trying. Did he even think about me anymore or had he written off my theft as a lesson in life and moved on?
I had an overwhelming urge to find out. I turned around at an historical marker inexplicably placed in the middle of nowhere. I saw that it had something to do with a wagon train that had stopped here in 1873 but I drove on without reading further. Who cared, I wondered? I mean, who cared?
I drove, still too fast for someone trying to keep a low profile, back to the large old country house I’d been living in instead of the ecologically friendly McMansion Nick owned on Long Island. As expected, Garland Plumtree, my lazy contractor, was parked in the driveway, casually assembling tools to begin his arduous workday. It was, after all, ten-thirty.
“Hey, Ms. Pasternelli,” he called out with the cheerful good will of a man who knows he’s got you by the balls, metaphorically speaking. “Beautiful morning, isn’t it?” He raised a well-tanned arm toward the heavens as if it was his own personal accomplishment.
“What’s left of it,” I answered, more short tempered than I’d intended. His large face, mostly jowls and sagging skin, settled into a kicked puppy wounded expression, one that I knew he used to good effect in getting out of the many promises he made all over town. “Sure, Mr. Johnson; Friday at eight’s fine. I’ll be there tomorrow, Mrs. Smith; first thing in the morning. The project will only take a couple of weeks, Ms. Pasternelli; I’ll have her buttoned up in jig time.”
But first thing in the morning to a contractor meant anything between ten and two, the couple of weeks was now at two months and counting and I still had no idea what ‘jig time’ meant.
Nothing quick, certainly. In the meantime, my kitchen was mostly in the backyard, my living room was uninhabitable and only by threatening violence had I managed to keep the upstairs bathroom undamaged. Garland Plumtree, as a general contractor, shared the view of his fellow tradesmen that a house should be completely taken apart before any repairs could possibly begin.
And though he hadn’t achieved his preferred goal, I had twice had to stop him from taking down a ceiling or removing all the electrical wiring. He walked over, admiring the new car by nodding with thumbs hooked into his measuring tape suspenders. On a man as taken to flab as Garland, these were not a sensible fashion.
“New car?” he asked as I got out.
“Finished with my house?” I said, by way of not answering. He laughed, as if this was a joke, which I suppose, to him, it was. I’d never had any idea how he made a living, never completing a project, and I had a suspicion that Garland Plumtree was as much a con artist in his way as I was, in mine.
“That’s a good one, Ms. Pasternelli,” he said companionably, and I fled to the ruins of my house, utterly defeated. I went upstairs to the only working room in the house and threw my keys on the bed. The door was open, and I saw that Maximillian had once again managed to get in.
Maximillian was a huge black tomcat who had wandered into my house a month ago and declared it his own. I’d been his servant ever since and he came and went as he pleased, as free a spirit as any ghost. I catered to his every whim and spoiled him and would feel awful on that inevitable day he decided not to return.
He rolled over on his back on my bedspread, stretched mightily and agreed that I could rub his belly. He asked if I’d brought him anything and shrugged when I said no. Maximillian and I had an arrangement—he could do whatever he wanted, and I’d allow it.
“No, he’s not done,” I explained to the cat as I wandered around the room, straightening things that didn’t need straightening, putting away my shoes, slipping into moccasins and jeans. I made sure the shades were drawn as I’d twice been surprised by faces in the window; men on ladders hardly working hard.
The idea of calling Nick both excited and unnerved me and I was unused to the sensation of dread. Normally I’m as shy as Maximillian there, lying on someone else’s bed with the calm assurance that it’s his. Stealing Nick’s money had been an impulse that came straight from my true nature. I’m a gypsy, trained to commit felonies, minimizing damage by doing only what I thought was right. Nick didn’t need the money, I’d return it if and when he caught up with me and we’d both have fun in the meantime.
Except…he didn’t seem to be enjoying it as much as he should. What fun is a game of hide and seek when hider isn’t being seeked? As I paced I began to get angry, my usual response to ambiguity and by the time I picked up the phone I was in a state of smoldering fury. All it would take is a small breeze to fan it into flame.
That breeze was supplied by an annoying secretary who, upon my request to speak to, “Nick Kuiper, please,” informed me that he wasn’t taking any calls, “at this time.”
“He’ll take this one, Sweetie,” I said. “Tell him Dani’s calling.”
“Who?” she asked.
“Dani,” I said. “Silver. Trust me; he’ll want this call.” But would he? I wondered. Had he written me off as just another bad investment? Would he still be interested? A rare sense of doubt hit me, and I felt like hanging up, but I’d come this far.
Not that my resolve mattered. In an annoying New York voice that grated like a nail on a chalkboard, little miss efficiency announced, “Mr. Kuiper gave instructions not to be bothered.” Her tone strongly implied, ‘especially by you.’
I was about to make one honey of a response when the phone went dead in my hand. I pressed redial and heard no answering tone. The thing was off.
“What the Hell?” I said, startling Maximillian into giving me a vocal complaint.
I glared at the phone and apologized to the cat and went looking for someone to throw it at. I found the target in the smiling face of Garland himself, casually walking alongside the house winding a cable around his arm into a compact coil. He wore the bemused look of a man who’s done a good job but stopped when I held the phone in front of his face and shook it.
“Oh,” he said. “You were making a call?”
“I was,” I said, with what passed for dignity. I fought off a desire to strangle the man with my own phone cord. “Why are you tearing out my phone line?”
“I needed to move it,” he explained, pointing back toward the garage, “over there.”
“And you didn’t think I’d need the phone?”
He didn’t appear to have considered that. “I thought,” he said, “that you had one of those cordless phones.”
“I do,” I said, showing it to him. “But even a cordless phone needs a phone line.”
“It does?” He pushed his ball cap back and scratched a mostly bald head, puzzled. “Then why do they call them wireless?”
“Because they’re…” I stopped and gaped at his innocent face, completely unable to continue. I wanted a beer at that moment, or a cigarette, which I hadn’t smoked in over two decades. I wanted to scream at him to get finished and get out. I wanted to…
What? What did I want? Certainly not what I had, which was a ruined house in a tiny town and a love affair with a man who didn’t seem to care that I was gone. The game, which I’d thought would be so exciting, became ashes in my mouth and I about-faced, marched to my new car and drove off without another word. Behind me, a shocked and wounded Garland Plumtree held out my telephone line like an offering to an angry God. As I roared out of the driveway in a very satisfying spray of gravel I heard him say, “You want me to put it back?”
I wrote my first novel in college at the University of Wyoming, played lead guitar in Pinky’s bar as a member of “Suzy Q and the Quad City Ramblers,” Got an English degree, then an engineering degree, worked a lot, got married to Traci (probably the best thing to ever happen), wrote several books with Raymond Dean White, retired recently from said engineering and started writing again.
Now I write cheerfully demented novels about con artists and overweight PIs, play guitar a lot (on a very well used and loved 1954 Martin D-18 (for those of you who have guitar lust—centerfold picture available on request) and generally am having the best retirement ever.
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