Author Chat with Kurt Dinan (The Scam List)! Plus Excerpt & Giveaway! ~ (US Only)
Today we're excited to chat with Kurt Dinan author of
The Scam List.
Read on for more about Kurt and his book, plus a giveaway!
Meet Kurt Dinan!
I live and work in the suburbs of Cincinnati with my wife and four children. I've taught high school English for over the last twenty-five years, and while I've never pulled any of the pranks detailed in my first novel, DON'T GET CAUGHT, I was once almost arrested in college for blizzarding the campus with fliers promoting a fake concert. My second novel, THE SCAM LIST, contains all things I love: con artists, bantering exes, crazy five-dollar bets, flea market weirdos, and bad people getting their just desserts.
Meet The Scam List!
Meet the best teen con artist team around.
Boone McReedy: high school conman, smooth-talking charmer, and the idiot who just got scammed out of $15,000 of his mom's money.
Darby West: ass-kicker, straight-shooter, and Boone's ex-girlfriend.
Now, they must team up to save their parents' business, one con at a time.
That is if they don't kill each other first.
Of course, they're only going to scam people who deserve it.
That’s a promise.
Would they lie to you?
As he did in his award-winning debut, DON’T GET CAUGHT, Kurt Dinan brings laughs, twists, and heart to THE SCAM LISTS’ funny world of teen con artists, exes, and outrageous five-dollar bets.
~ Excerpt ~
THE SCAM LIST
By Kurt Dinan
Chapter 1: Shakedown Switcheroo
I, Boone McReedy, am an Olympic-level bullshit artist.
It’s how I persuade brainiacs that doing my homework would benefit humankind.
Or convince poor suckers to donate money to my beer fund.
Or smile and silver-tongue my way out of speeding tickets.
Lying’s in my DNA, transferred to me from my dad, who got it from his dad, and so on down the line. Call it my bullshit birthright. It’s a talent that comes naturally, and who am I to fight genetics?
But natural ability can only get you so far. To be a successful conman, you can’t just speak the lie, you have to sell the lie. Not only does whoever is listening have to believe what you’re saying, but you have to believe it too. How else could used-car salesmen earn a living? Or the booth owners here at Garbage Mountain convince you to buy shit you don’t need? It’s all in the sell.
I had a lot of time to think about this back in August while I sat in Dad’s hospital room. The goddamn hospice nurse kept talking in this soft, calm voice that made me want to commit murder. When your dad’s about to die, the last thing you want is a
stranger telling you how peaceful he looks and how he knows you’re here with him and how he doesn’t have much time left. No, what you want at that moment is an audience with God so you can kick him in the balls for doing to this to your dad.
If you don’t know anything about pancreatic cancer, it’s pretty much a death sentence with no last-second call from the governor coming to save your ass. In just over three months, Dad went from being a forty-six-year-old guy with a full-on dad bod to a withered, living skeleton. On the day he died, Dad used what little strength he had remaining to wiggle a finger at me. He could barely speak then, and I had to put my ear right by his chapped lips to hear him. His breath was so rank and stale I had to fight not to gag, something I still feel guilty about. I leaned in, and in one of his final moments of life, Dad said…
Because none of that happened. I made it all up, and you believed me because I sold it. See how it works? I’d feel bad for lying to you, but you should have seen it coming. I mean, what were we just talking about? But I promise not to lie to you again. Unless I do. We’ll see. It’s situational.
So anyway, no, Dad’s not dead. He is in prison, though, which is about the same thing. Mom’s written him off, that’s for sure, but I won’t let him off the hook that easily. I’m too pissed. He’s been in prison nine months, almost two years to the day Mom made our family the proud owners of the biggest local embarrassment.
The sign out front of this twenty-acre flea market may read “Golden Mountain,” but no one calls it that. To the citizens of Batesville, Ohio, the 120 sales booths crammed into one long building is better known as “Garbage Mountain,” and for good reason—you name it, we sell it: two-dollar t-shirts that disintegrate on first wash, throwing stars and nunchucks for the budding ninja, velvet paintings of the baby Jesus swaddled in an American flag, six-dollar knockoff Air Jordans…you get the idea. And believe me, if you’re going to make your livelihood selling crap, your bullshit gene has to be a dominant one.
So Tuesday afternoon, I’m in the back bathroom at Garbage Mountain plunging away at a clogged toilet and wondering why some people wait an entire year before evacuating their bowels when the door slams open. I lean out of the stall in time to see Billy Gompers trying to shove this scrawny freshman, Andy Alexander, through the tiled wall. We do a little eye dance, Andy’s eyes pleading and Gompers’ eyes menacing, until Gompers says, “Mind your goddamn business, McReedy.”
“No problem here, man.”
Billy Gompers has drum-tight, oily skin stretched over an unnaturally lumpy skull that would make even the Elephant Man cringe. Add a caveman’s IQ and a great white shark’s compassion, and Gompers has a bright future ahead of him. Flashforward twenty years and you’ll find him working the graveyard shift at a tow truck company and spending his days euthanizing dogs at the animal shelter for fun.
So I go back to CPR’ing the toilet like I’m trying to save its life and let the little drama play itself out a few feet away.
“I can’t get you anymore,” Andy says, all blubbery. “My mom actually watches me swallow the pills. I can’t palm them like I do at school.”
What follows is the loud, telltale umph of Andy taking a fist to the stomach.
“Then why the hell did you have me meet you here?” Gompers growls. “I want ten by tomorrow or you’re dead.”
“How am I supposed to do that?”
“Like I give a shit. Say you spilled them down the drain. Rob someone. Just figure it out.”
It’s vintage Gompers, not even taking the summer off from his goonery. You see this enough times and secretly hope the Andys of the world will do us all a favor by throwing a lucky punch that accidentally crushes the bully’s trachea, but this, unfortunately, isn’t the Andy to make that happen.
So in a situation like this, there’s only one thing to do: I leave the plunger behind and step out of the stall. Andy’s on the floor against the wall with Gompers hulking over him.
“Hey, Gompers,” I say, “some advice?”
Gompers snaps my way, looking surprised. Or maybe confused. Like I said, his face doesn’t lend itself to careful study.
“Stay out of this, Boone.”
I take a step toward them, and Gompers covers the space between us in three quick steps before shoving me hard. Then I’m pinned against the wall, staring at the smiling skull ring on Gompers’ middle finger that’s curled with the others into a boulder-sized fist.
“I said beat it,” Gompers says.
“Okay,” I say, “but taking pills from this kid’s a waste. It’s like robbing a bank and only pocketing the change instead of hitting the vault.”
Gompers blinks hard. I should have dumbed things down from the beginning.
“The kid’s family’s got money, Gompers. Lots of it. Enough for you to buy all the pills you want and have a lot left over. I just figured you’d want to know.”
Gompers puts his greasy face inches from mine and breathes on me hard. Now I’ll never be able to grow a decent beard.
“Why are you telling me this?” he says.
“Because who doesn’t love money? I figure I’m in for a small finder’s fee, but since you’re the muscle, you keep the bulk of it. If he has any money on him, that is.”
Gompers stares at me with dead eyes but lets go of my shirt.
“Or maybe I just keep it all for myself,” he says.
“Hey, your call, man. You’re the boss. Let’s at least see what he’s got before we make any decisions.”
Andy’s doing his best to disappear into the corner, but Gompers smells blood in the water and yanks Andy to his feet.
“You holding out on me?”
“I told you I don’t have any pills.”
“Not pills. You heard him. Money.”
Andy looks at me for help but knows he won’t be getting it. He turns his front pockets inside-out to show Gompers they’re empty, but Gompers isn’t dumb. Well, not completely dumb.
“Turn around,” Gompers says, and before Andy can respond, he’s face-first against the wall. Gompers shoves a hand into Andy’s back pocket, and a second later we’re all looking at a wallet with sixty dollars in it.
“That’s mine,” Andy says.
“Not anymore,” Gompers says. Then the cash is out of Andy’s wallet and in his pocket. “And if you tell anyone about this, they’ll never find your body.”
“What about me?” I say. “I’m the one who told you about the money.”
“No, look,” I say, “consider it a payoff. If the kid is dumb enough to tell his parents or the cops, I’ll back you up. It’ll be our words against his, two against one.”
“You’ll back me up anyway,” Gompers says.
“Why would I do that?”
“Because if you don’t, I’ll beat your ass.”
It’s impossible to argue with such sound Neanderthalian logic.
Gompers is on the way out when the bathroom door opens again. Standing in the doorway blocking Gompers’ path is a guy who looks like he uses professional wrestlers as toothpicks. He’s wearing black jeans and a black t-shirt reading “Kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out.”
“Andy?” the man says.
“Dad?” Andy says.
“Shit,” Gompers says.
The man steps into the bathroom, and Gompers backs way the hell up. He might be one of the biggest kids in school, but he looks like a toddler next to this behemoth.
“They robbed me,” Andy says, pushing past us and standing behind his dad.
“Whoa, wait a minute,” I say, holding both hands out. “That’s not true. I’m not a part of this. It was all him.” I hook a thumb at Gompers, who looks like he’s just taken a hammer to the forehead. Not that you could tell if he did.
“No, he tried to take money too,” Andy says.
“But only to give it back to you so you didn’t lose it all,” I say.
Andy’s dad takes a step forward, and now it’s Gompers and me who are pressing ourselves into the wall.
“Give it to me,” the man growls.
Gompers, in a shocking display of rational thinking, doesn’t hesitate in handing over the wad of cash. The man then looks at me, his hand out.
“I told you I didn’t take any of it,” I say.
“No, but you wanted to. So give me what you’ve got.”
“Your money,” he says. “All of it. Now.”
Before I have time to comply, the man’s paw closes over my face and I’m shoved sideways along the wall. I slam into the metal garbage can and hit the ground, soggy paper towels and empty food wrappers raining on me.
“Now,” he says again.
I rush to give him what little money I have, and then he’s vulturing over Gompers. It’s a mirror image of Gompers standing over Andy five minutes ago, but this probably isn’t the best time for a discussion on irony. Gompers reaches into his front pocket and pulls out a sad five-dollar bill. He hands it to the man, who then gives it to Andy.
“And the rest?” Andy’s dad says.
“There isn’t anymore,” Gompers says.
The man leans in, and it’s enough for even someone as dumb as Gompers to surrender. He may be a shark, but even sharks are afraid of one thing—bigger sharks. Gompers goes through all of his pockets, and when he’s finished, he’s handed over Andy’s money and at least a hundred dollars of his own. Who knew being a bullying asshole could be so lucrative?
“Apologize to my son,” the man says.
Gompers and I each whimper out a “sorry” while staring holes through the bathroom floor.
“Good,” he says, “and if Andy ever tells me that either one of you even looked at him—”
“It won’t happen,” Gompers says.
“I know people,” Andy’s dad says. “You will disappear.”
“We don’t doubt it, sir,” I say.
My eyes go wet, and I can almost smell the urine wanting to flood out of Gompers.
“Let’s go,” Andy’s dad says, and seconds later, Gompers and I are alone in the bathroom.
“We need to call the cops,” I say.
“No way. That guy’ll kill us.”
“But he robbed us,” I say. “And he assaulted me.”
“Jesus, McReedy, and what would you tell the cops? That we were shaking this kid down and then his dad came in and stole from us instead? Don’t be so goddamn stupid.”
Gompers leaves without another word, and I’m left with heart palpitations and a toilet to finish unclogging. It takes another five minutes of plunging before I’m finished, which is just enough time for the coast to clear. I find Andy and his dad sitting in the food court, risking their lives with fifty-cent corndogs from Brenda’s Hot Dog Emporium. They wave their fried sticks at me in salute.
“Did he split?” I say.
“He hauled ass as soon as he left the bathroom,” the man says. “I doubt he’ll be bothering the kid anytime soon.”
“You just saved me years of having to deal with that gorilla,” Andy says.
Roadie, the man who played the role of Andy’s dad, is a boother here. Among other things, he rides a Harley and is friends with counterfeiters, gun nuts, and master criminals. He’s definitely a handy guy to know and was more than willing to help us out with Gompers.
“Did you get hurt when I threw you down?” Roadie says. “It was a last-second improvisation.”
“No,” I say, my ribs still aching, “I’ve learned how to take a fall. It’s a much-needed survival skill.”
“I hear that.”
We talk for a while longer, mostly laughing about pulling off a Shakedown Switcheroo and hearing way too many thank-yous from Andy. Eventually, Roadie pulls out the roll of bills he took from Gompers and hands it to me. I take my original twelve, give Andy back his sixty, then count Gompers’ donation. Once I take my agreed-upon forty-five percent, I hand Roadie the rest of the cash.
“Thanks for the help,” I say.
“Anytime,” Roadie says before pocketing the money and heading back to his booth.
“That’s one scary dude,” Andy says. “Do you know a lot of people like him?”
“More than is healthy,” I say.
Our business complete, there isn’t any reason for Andy to stick around. It’s been a good day. I got paid for doing what I do best, Andy has a meathead off his back, and Gompers will hopefully think twice before he messes with someone.
But I doubt he will.
People are stupid.
It’s what makes being me so fun.
Chapter 2: A Mystery Girl Appears
My reward for successfully saving the life of an easy Batesville target is the privilege of spending the next two hours sweating to death in Bolan, the sixty-five-foot tyrannosaurus smiling down at the entrance to Garbage Mountain. Officially, my job in Bolan’s brain is greeting customers entering the building. Unofficially, my job is inhaling the carcinogenic fiberglass particles flecking off Bolan’s innards while I watch old movies. “Employee of the Month,” here I come.
Working inside Bolan might actually be tolerable if I had a real view of Batesville, or as most of us call it, Masturbatesville. Instead, all I have is the sad scenery of Garbage Mountain’s potholed parking lot and its spattering of cars. Well, that and a view of Treasure Palace, the newer, cleaner flea market that opened next door a year ago. Who would have thought one town could support multiple entrepreneurs selling dolls made out of socks and bedazzled hemp purses? The obvious answer is, it can’t. A quick car count comparison between parking lots is all the proof you need.
“What do you think, Rock?” I say. “Six months, tops?”
From his hook on the wall, Rockefeller stares at me with lidless eyes.
“Fine, nine months,” I say. “But that’s the most I’m giving this place.”
Rockefeller, a shrunken head the size of a softball, was a gift from Thurman, owner and operator of booth fourteen’s Smoke Shop. Thurman says the head was once attached to the body of Michael Rockefeller, heir to an oil fortune who went missing in New Guinea in the sixties and is thought to have been eaten by cannibals. The story has to be bullshit, and I’d ask Rockefeller for the truth, but he’s tightlipped about things since his mouth is sewn shut. Still, what Rockefeller lacks in storytelling abilities, he makes up for in judgmental stares, so he’s not a completely worthless roommate.
Today, the two of us are busy doing our part to ensure Garbage Mountain’s success by watching The Sting on a portable DVD player on loan from booth twenty-one’s Vintage Tech. Rockefeller’s completely engrossed in the movie, unable to take his eyes off it, literally, while I unconsciously practice my one-handed false cut with a ratty deck of playing cards. Despite the heat stroke coming on, I’m feeling pretty good after my little bathroom con an hour ago. But let’s be clear, what happened in there isn’t a daily occurrence. There are lines I won’t cross. I’m not my father. At least I like to tell myself that.
I’m zoned out of my mind when a red Corolla pulls into the parking lot and two long and wonderfully tan legs appear. I fumble the cards onto the floor and lean out of Bolan for a better look. The girl’s only one step out of her car, and already she’s scoring high on the Boone McReedy Dream Girl List:
Close to my age? Check.
End of list.
What can I say? I’m an equal opportunity boy toy.
Add to the fact this girl has dyed-purple hair, is hardcore cute, and is wearing a Titus Andronicus t-shirt, and I’m ready for us to start house hunting. When she reaches the talk box, I flip on the ancient audio system and say, “Well, hello there, young lady. Welcome to Golden Mountain.”
Not my smoothest line, sure, but I’m hobbled by having to use my dinosaur voice. When in Bolan, you must talk like Bolan. It’s dinosaur law.
Mystery Girl looks up for a sign of life, but there’s nothing to see but Bolan’s smiling mouth. She should count herself lucky because if she saw me in all my sweaty glory, her knees would buckle.
“Is that you, Boone?” she says.
I squint into the sun, half-blinding myself. She’s not someone I recognize, so she must’ve searched me out after reading about me on one of the many fan sites set up in my honor. I support myself on one of Bolan’s canines, leaning forward and shouting down in my normal voice, “Yeah, it’s me.”
Oh, Boone McReedy, you eloquent bastard.
“I’m Leyla,” she says and gives me this half-smile gut puncher. Then she reaches into her back pocket and pulls out a pink piece of paper.
“This is from Mo. There’s a show tonight.”
Mo, short for Mohammed, is a 5’5”, glasses-wearing, first-generation American with Iranian parents, a pedigree that would normally get his butt kicked here in moronically conservative Batesville, but Mo’s status as a certified rock star protects him. His band, My Demonic Foreskin, plays a vast catalog of pop punk songs largely centered on Mo’s inability to get laid. Flashforward twenty years and Mo’s probably still tragically virginal but runs an insanely successful recording studio with a twelve-month waiting list.
“He’s playing at The Underground at nine,” Leyla says. “Are you coming?”
“I’m not sure,” I say. “Will you be there?”
Above me, Rockefeller’s look says he’s not impressed.
“Give me a break,” I tell him. “It’s been a long day.”
“Sorry, I can’t tonight,” Leyla says. “I’m just helping with advertising.”
“Oh, come on, go,” I say. “I’ll show you the dance moves that won me the International Dance Off in Switzerland last year.”
“But then everyone would want a piece of you, and where would that leave me?”
“No, believe me, if you go, you’ll have my undivided attention. How could you not?”
She’s smiling back now and says, “I can’t, really. It’s tempting, though.”
“Well, how about to sweeten the pot, I promise to share with you the secret to everlasting happiness?”
“And I’m guessing you could only do that in the backseat of your car?”
“I like the way you think, but no,” I say. “It is a secret I can only reveal while drinking and dancing.”
This time her smile’s a full-on blazer that hits me south of the belt. I’m about to render her completely helpless by ratcheting up my flirting to galactic levels when I’m interrupted by a boy, probably six, and his mom, definitely exhausted, coming up the sidewalk. Leyla steps aside, and I drop back into Bolan’s mouth.
“Are you the last dinosaur alive?” the boy says into the talk box.
“Yes, and if you eat your vegetables and listen to your mom, you can live as long as me,” I tell him.
“How old are you?”
“I’m sixty-five million years old. In fact, today’s my birthday.”
“You can’t be that old. The earth’s only been around for 6,000 years.”
“Who told you that?”
Now look, like any sane guy, I want the kid and his mom gone fast so I can get back to all that’s important and meaningful in life—i.e., talking to my soon-to-be wife, Leyla—but sometimes I can’t stop myself. So I say to the boy, “Well, it sounds like maybe your mom needs to study the fossil record a little more closely.”
Even from up here I can see the kid double-blink.
“She should read Dinosaur in a Haystack by Stephen Jay Gould,” I say. “Lara’s Book Nook and Bait Shop in booth thirty-three should have it. Tell your mom to buy a copy. And you have a great day here at Golden Mountain.”
The mom stares up at Bolan, but I’m well-hidden. Then she grabs the kid’s hand and starts dragging him back toward the parking lot. Of course, that’s when the two-way clipped to my belt crackles to life.
“If they leave, I’m deducting from your paycheck whatever I estimate they would’ve spent. Do you understand?”
Mom may own Garbage Mountain, but Opal’s the brains behind the operation. She’s also a thousand years old and the reason I fully support the Eskimo tribes who once allegedly shoved their elderly out to sea on icebergs.
I give a lengthy sigh before announcing in my Bolan voice, “All little boys entering Golden Mountain today will receive a free ice cream at I Scream, You Scream, located in the food court. Come help me celebrate my birthday.”
The boy looks up from the sidewalk, and when his six-year-old brain processes what he’s just heard, he’s immediately back on his feet pulling at his mom to get inside. Things go epic tug-of-war then, the mom yanking him toward the car, the kid going boneless on the sidewalk, refusing to get up even as his mom’s threat-begs increase in volume. Seconds before the kid goes into an all-out tantrum and starts wailing, the mom gives in and heads for the front door. The pissiness is still all over her face, but she’s going because he’s stopped making a scene.
“One free ice cream—that’s $2.95 from your paycheck,” Opal says.
“Doesn’t sound free to me,” I mutter.
“Oh, shut up.”
I look back at the talk box, expecting to see Leyla, but she’s halfway to her car.
“Wait, where are you going?”
“Maybe I’ll see you tonight,” she yells back. “Check out the flyer.”
She’s weighed the flyer down with a rock on the talk box, and I’m seconds from leaping six-and-a-half stories to get it when Opal interrupts yet again.
“I need you inside, Boone. Maggie dropped a gallon of vegetable oil in Popcorn Perfection.”
This is my life.
I grab Rockefeller off his hook and climb down into Bolan’s stomach. This space isn’t nearly as cramped as upstairs, and is big enough to contain a small desk, two chairs, and a lamp. A stack of half-read detective novels from the Book Nook sits near the exit, alongside a plastic container filled with Little Debbie boxes and individual chip bags. Movie posters with Han Solo, Jack Sparrow, and James Bond cover Bolan’s insides, and dozens of cassettes from booth six, Everyone Loves Music, lay scattered by an old boom box. Bolan’s the greatest secret clubhouse a boy could ask for.
Before leaving, I hang Rockefeller over the table like a grotesque chandelier and exit through the door, which is wonderfully located where Bolan’s butthole would be if he were real, and go grab Leyla’s flyer. More important than the names of bands playing tonight is how Leyla’s written her name and number at the bottom. My professional handwriting analysis skills tell me she wants me bad.
The Mountain is essentially a massive warehouse but with white wooden panels on the outside to make it a little less military looking. The panels are in desperate need of a paint job, but I’m not about to bring that up. I’d spend the rest of the summer on a ladder with a paint sprayer, hoping for a strong wind to blow me off to my death.
Opal’s standing just inside the entrance of Garbage Mountain, scowling at me like I’m late for curfew. She’s wearing a blue and white polyester get-up that makes her a walking firetrap. And here I am without a lighter.
“Is she in there?” I say, motioning toward the office.
“Yes, with the lawyers, so don’t bother her.”
Mom’s meetings with Mr. Stuffy and Ms. Stick-Up-The-Butt have been more frequent lately, and it’s easy to understand why—Garbage Mountain’s bleeding money. Not only are we losing boothers to Treasure Palace, but at least a dozen of our residents haven’t paid for their rental space in months. Mom should kick them out, but she’s too nice. Real-world business has no room for Mom’s overly compassionate heart.
Opal says, “While you were taking your time getting here, Brenda called from The Mud Hut to say they have a clogged sink. But start with the vegetable oil spill. And I need you to do the night deposit tonight.”
“But it’s not my night. Tuesday is Darby.”
“She’s unavailable, so you’ll do it.”
“I have plans.”
“Oh, plans,” Opal says. “Curing cancer, maybe? Or are you hoping to finish your opera?”
“Darby has real plans, unlike your imaginary ones. Be in my office at 7.”
Jesus, now something else to waste my time. Night deposit means dropping a cash-filled, padlocked nylon envelope at the bank box with the day’s proceeds, which after a good weekend can run up to $20,000. A Tuesday drop is considerably less, though, even if it’s matched with Monday’s take. Say maybe $2,000. Regardless, it’s chimp work, and I’m the head ape.
“Don’t forget, Boone,” Opal says again. “Seven o’clock.”
I walk off without saying goodbye. That’ll show her.
The Mountain may be one big warehouse, but the inside is broken into three aisles, each containing forty booths, twenty on each side. Wagon wheel chandeliers hang from the ceiling alongside odd decorative choices like stuffed animals and colored streamers, all leftovers from the previous owner. Boothers, unfortunately, can furnish their stalls however they want. Some have blinking neon signs, others hand-painted ones. Long red carpet mats run the length of each aisle and are supposed to remain free of objects so the customers have a place to walk, but most boothers clog the aisles with sandwich boards plagued with misspellings. Basically, if you’re a clean freak, break out in hives at the sight of clashing colors, or suffer from claustrophobia, The Mountain is not for you.
As I make my way across the complex, I’m under constant assault with smiles, hugs, and hellos from the boothers, something easily blamed on Dad. Once he was arrested, I quickly became the adopted child of a community of misfits. The offers came fast and furious:
Stephanie, who spent her teenage years being shot out of a cannon with a traveling circus, told me to stop by her barbecue stand anytime for a free meal.
Dave of Dave’s DVD Den said I could borrow from the pirated movie collection he keeps for trusted customers.
Mindy, who has an eye tattoo on her forehead, offered free tarot readings at Miss Mindy Sees All.
Bob the Bargain Man hooked me up with his friend who runs a police car auction, which led to my first car, The Destroyer.
And so on.
The only way I could have stronger role models would be by joining a biker gang.
I spend the rest of the afternoon unclogging sinks, emptying garbage cans, and hating life. I may have felt good after helping Andy in the bathroom, but nothing is more humbling than hours of shit work. After the mandatory two-hour waiting period passes, I send Leyla a painstakingly crafted text of “Hey, this is Boone,” and wait for her reply.
I kill the last hour of my shift wandering the stalls, specifically Karen’s Nightmare Toys, which sells grinning cymbal monkeys, jack-in-the-boxes, clown dolls, and other toys you can buy if you want to guarantee your kid years of necessary therapy.
Karen’s booth is flanked on one side by Adam’s Invention Mania, where you can buy such essentials as a tuba-shaped toothpaste dispenser called Tuba Toothpaste, and on the other side by Kerry’s Bargain Rock ’n Roll Memorabilia, filled with such unwanted items as signed guitar picks by members of Nickelback and a piece of gum once chewed by the lead singer of The Police. And people wonder why Garbage Mountain is a sinking ship.
A half-hour before closing, I give up on the day and am heading for our small apartment in the back of the building when I see Darby West standing outside her uncle’s booth, Ancient Artifacts. Darby’s wearing loose cargo pants, a t-shirt, and cross trainers with her hair pulled back in a ponytail. As usual, she looks ready for a fight. When not pulling straight A’s, Darby teaches Combat Ready, a self-defense class for girls at her uncle’s dojo, where she’s raising her own female ninja army. If you see a guy walking around Batesville High with a black eye or busted nose, odds are Darby or one of her minions is behind it. Flashforward twenty years and Darby’s either a pit fighter in the Congolese jungle or the warden of a supermax prison.
“You messed up my plans for tonight,” I say.
“Then today can’t possibly get any better.”
“What’s so important you can’t do the night drop?”
“Not that it’s any of your business, but I got hired to do a private lesson at the dojo.”
“And that’s more important than whatever I had planned?”
Darby stares me down, almost begging me to say something smart-assed so she can roundhouse kick me across the building. You might be thinking I should disarm her with the same charm I used on Leyla, but Darby’s impervious to my weapons. She wasn’t always, but she is now. There’s a history there that isn’t worth going into at the moment. Let’s just say Darby’s made it clear she would rather light herself on fire than be around me.
“Don’t you think maybe you owe me?” I say.
“For the two weeks of entertainment I gave you.”
“If anything, you owe me. No one should have to put up with you for that long.”
I leave Darby to her silent gloating and head over to the Coke machine, pulling a special dollar bill from my wallet. I feed it into the slot, and when the machine’s credited me, I pull on the packaging tape I’ve applied to the bill and yank it from the machine. It’s a cheap con, not worthy of my talents, but I’m pissy and thirsty, so it’s not the time for an ethics discussion.
All around me boothers are shutting down for the night, pulling down gates and turning off their lights. I’m envisioning a sad, lonely night of video games and maybe a movie after my trip to the bank when my phone buzzes.
I’ll see you tonight. Can’t wait for those dance moves. ;)
And now I have a decision—do the responsible thing and make the night drop at the bank, or blow it off until morning, change into a non-feces-smelling shirt, and drive to The Underground to meet Leyla in all of her hot glory?
I think we both know the right answer.
Chapter 3: Bad Night at The Underground
“Okay, here’s the bet,” I say. “Ten dollars says I can get this dime inside the bottle without touching the dime, the bottle, or the toothpick. And, no, I won’t blow on it either.”
I’m sitting at the bar in The Underground, the last business standing in the Great Oaks Mega Mall, which once housed over two hundred stores but is now nothing but covered storefronts and emergency lighting. Tonight, the entire place smells of stale beer and B.O. with just a hint of decaying rat carcasses. It’s definitely not the place to go if you’re overflowing with self-respect. On stage, the opening act is tearing down their equipment, and the soundman’s being ironic and playing the goddamn Dave Matthews Band. Next to me is a dope my age who clearly doesn’t know who I am because he’s listening to my pitch and considering taking me up on it. We’re both looking at a dime balanced on a toothpick snapped into an L over the opening of an empty Rolling Rock bottle.
“And you won’t touch any of them?” he says.
“Is there a time limit? Like, are we just going to sit here until someone bumps into it or something?”
“No, nothing like that. I only get ten seconds.”
He leans in toward the bottle, trying to figure out the angle I’m playing. Of course, there’s nothing for him to see, but I know the ten I’ve put in front of me has his greedy mouth watering.
“Bullshit. It can’t be done.”
“Care to back that up with money?”
The guy looks at me, then at the bottle, then back at me. Inside his head, Logic and Emotion are battling. Logic is telling him to back off, that this is a setup he can’t win. But Emotion is whispering how smart he is and how he knows more than I do. It’s telling him there’s no way I can get the dime in the bottle without touching it. If you’re me, you want Emotion to win the debate, and it usually does.
“Okay, fine,” he says. “Show me.”
“Let me see your money first.”
He puts crumpled ones and a five on the bar, and the bartender, who has frizzed-out black hair and translucent skin like she’s seen too many Tim Burton movies, rolls her eyes because she knows what’s coming.
“Ready?” I say. “Start the countdown.”
When he says “ten,” I dip my finger into a small pool of condensation on the bar, then drip the water onto the broken part of the toothpick. A second later, the toothpick slowly starts to open, moving the dime closer to dropping. The guy doesn’t even make it to four before the dime falls into the bottom of the bottle. Why does this happen? I have no idea. Physics or something. Who am I, Neil deGrasse Tyson?
I reach for the money, but the guy swipes it.
“Don’t do that,” I say. “Take your loss like a man.”
“It was a bullshit bet. I’m not paying.”
“Look, I get it. I really do. Losing a bet like that’s a blow to the ego. But here’s the thing—see that guy over there?”
I point up to the front of the stage where my friend Arlo, a 6’5”, 270-pound colossus, stands. Arlo would probably be a Division I football prospect if he wasn’t a self-proclaimed pacifist. He also has a Jesus beard and a calm, hypnotic way of speaking that instantly puts everyone at ease. Flashforward twenty years and Arlo lives in a mountaintop monastery teaching others to levitate. But the guy next to me doesn’t need to know about Arlo’s hatred of violence. He also apparently doesn’t need me to explain my overall point, because this time he listens to Logic and drops the money back onto the bar before calling me an asshole and walking away.
“Another, please,” I say to the bartender, who pulls a bottle from the cooler and puts it in front of me. She doesn’t even ask for my ID, which is a fake, of course. Not that I need it here. You could draw a pirate ship on a Post-it and they’ll take it as valid identification at The Underground.
And yeah, sometimes I drink. And my G.P.A is shit. I’ve even had sex before and will have it again someday, hopefully. What’s your point? My dad’s in jail, my mom owns a massive junk emporium, and I spend most of my days in a dinosaur. How’s your life going?
A girl in a skin-hugging blue tank top passes, and I throw the smile I give when I want to render women helpless. Somehow this girl’s impervious to it. The only explanation possible is legal blindness.
I snag my beer and weave through the crowd to the front of the stage where Mo’s waiting to set up. Tonight, he’s dressed slacker-cool in ripped black jeans and a Fugazi t-shirt. Next to him, Arlo’s playing the role of unnecessary bodyguard. Mo may not be safe from bigoted dickheads on the streets, but here in The Underground, he’s royalty.
“Holy crap,” Mo says when he sees me. “He lives.”
“It’s like a Bigfoot sighting,” Arlo says.
“Speaking of Bigfoot,” I say. “Jesus, that beard of yours.”
“What? I shaved this morning. I can’t help that I have this much testosterone. But your shirt.”
I’m wearing an electric blue bowling shirt from booth eighty-one’s Monica’s Comfortable Shirts that’s definitely not to everyone’s taste. I used to dress like every other slobby teenage boy in town, but Monica said something to me a year ago that stuck. I had just fixed the gate on her booth when she held up a shirt to my chest.
“I can’t wear that,” I said. “The guys will light me up.”
“Boone, I’m going to tell you a secret most men don’t discover out until they’re well into their twenties, if then. Are you ready?”
Monica’s eyes went right, then left, making sure no one else was in hearing distance. Then she motioned me forward and cupped a hand between her mouth and my ear.
“Dress for girls, Boone. Not for guys. Trust me.”
I may have been skeptical, but when a woman like Monica—hell, any female for that matter—whispers in my ear, I’m defenseless. And of course, she was right. Guys at school gave me hell at first because of the shirt, but the girls loved it. I’ve let the women of Garbage Mountain dress me ever since.
“Any setlist surprises tonight?” I say to Mo.
“Just the usual, brother,” he says, smoothing down the Against Me! sticker on his guitar. “Shake the walls—”
“—and blow some eardrums,” Arlo finishes.
They high-five. I’d like to make it clear that if I’m ever with someone who finishes my sentences, you have my permission to kill me.
“So is Leyla here?” I say.
“Who?” Mo says.
“The girl you had doing PR for the show. She stopped by with a flyer.”
“Arlo does all of our promotions.”
I look at Arlo, who says, “Maybe she’s working with one of the other bands?”
“She said you sent her to me,” I say.
“Not me, man,” Mo says.
I scan the crowd for Leyla but come up empty. I’m about to get depressed by the tragic realization that this excellent shirt is going to go to waste when two girls walk by. One of them says hi, which is all the invitation I need. I tell the guys I’ll talk to them later and follow the two girls to the pinball machine in the back corner.
And before you ask, no, I don’t have a girlfriend. Shocking but true. Just between us, I don’t want the commitment because I won’t risk being dumped. Dad going to prison is enough rejection for a lifetime. Still, it’s fun to find a girl as screwed up as me to fool around with, and The Underground is usually littered with them.
The two girls at the pinball machine aren’t from around here because I know all the girls in Batesville. I stand close and watch as the short-haired blonde with the stud in her nose loses her first ball seconds after it’s in play.
I lean on the machine and say, “Speaking as someone who knows a potential pinball wizard when he sees one, I’m recommending you drop out of school and go professional.”
Her tall friend rolls her eyes, but the blonde says, “Funny, I already did that. I’m just in town to brush up on my skills while on my way to the World Pinball Championships at Madison Square Garden.”
“And how are you finding the local talent?”
“A little lacking,” she says. “And to think we’d heard so much about Batesville boys. Nice shirt, though.”
I give her my aw-shucks smile sending her into full swoon. She abandons her game and says, “Do you remember me?”
“Wait a minute,” I say, rubbing my chin. “We built houses for Habitat for Humanity together, right? Or was it cleaning cages at the Humane Society? I know it must’ve been one of those charities that only let the nicest and most giving people join. Sorry if I can’t remember. I’m in so many.”
She comes closer to me, her hips dangerously close to mine.
“Katie,” she says. “Katie Post?”
I pantomime a light bulb appearing over my head.
“Of course! Katie! I remember now.”
“You do? From where?”
“If you can’t remember, drinks on you. Fair?”
Oh, I’m getting out of this one easily.
“Okay, I confess I can’t remember,” I say. “But that’s a me-problem, not a you-problem. I suffered long-term memory loss when I saved those kids in the runaway school bus. Now, as for drinks, do you want—”?
And that’s when Katie’s arm shoots forward and a tidal wave of warm beer hits me in the face.
“Drinks on you,” she says.
I’m not encouraged by their laughter as they disappear into the crowd. I’d be lying if I said this was the first time this has happened to me.
The Underground’s bathroom is a clean freak’s nightmare and a graffiti artist’s dream. A vast assortment of penis drawings and stickers of bands long gone cover the walls, stalls, and most of the ceiling. The floor is wet with what I can only hope is water, but I’m not optimistic. I make a futile pass at the paper towel machine before having to settle for toilet paper to mop my face.
I’m cleaning up as best I can in the cracked mirror when Parker Briggs comes in. Parker’s impossibly good-looking and has a nice trust fund waiting for him when he turns twenty-one, which probably explains his reputation of having a loose zipper. But more importantly, his dad, Cullen Briggs, owns Treasure Palace. Parker and I were friends in middle school, but when we hit high school, he veered off on the golden path with other rich kids. There was never an official end to our friendship; we just stopped hanging out, downgrading our relationship status to acquaintances. Things became strained once his dad built the monstrosity across the street from Garbage Mountain. It’s hard faking even the slightest amount of friendliness to a person whose dad is trying to close down your family business.
Parker nods to my beer-soaked shirt and says, “Girl trouble?”
He gives me his fluorescent white smile and says, “Same old Boone,” before checking his look in the mirror.
“I watched you pull The Dime Drop on the moron at the bar,” he says. “I can’t believe he fell for that.”
“They always do.”
“It was fun when we used to con kids with bets back in middle school.”
“Yeah, we won more Little Debbie snack cakes than we could ever eat.”
“We sure did,” Parker says. “But that was middle school. I’m surprised you’re still pulling scams. I figured you’d—I don’t know—grow out of it.”
“Is that what you did?”
“I don’t have time for games anymore. Dad’s grooming me to take over Treasure Palace someday. Right now, I’m pretty much in charge of security.”
“Wow,” I deadpan. “You’re, like, really important.”
“Laugh all you want, Boone. You can’t go through your whole life never growing up.”
“Not with that attitude you can’t.”
“Anyway,” he says, “If you get bored, I’m having a party next Tuesday. Feel free to stop by.”
He leaves, and I finish up before following. With no Leyla in sight, I consider bailing, but Mo and the rest of the band are onstage and close to kicking it off. Mo’s parents are the only adults here and stand off to the side and far enough back not to embarrass the hell out of Mo. Despite their strict religious beliefs, they’ve never stopped Mo’s musical pursuits. In fact, just one look at their faces as they watch him, you can tell they’re crazy proud of him.
Mo says into the mic, “Hi, we’re My Demonic Foreskin. Thanks for coming.”
After a quick count, the band launches a face-melting version of Cheap Trick’s “Surrender.” The crowd starts pogo-ing so hard the floor shakes. My bottle’s empty, so I go back to the bar where another rube is sitting alone, practically begging me to take his money. I sit next to him and pull a matchstick and dime from my pocket. He watches me as I set them on top of the bottle.
“So here’s the bet.”
I launch into my quick pitch. They’re called bar bets, sucker bets, or proposition bets. Whatever you call them, it’s a simple way to make easy money from unsuspecting people. Dad was the master of the bar bet and once told me he’d never paid for a drink in his life. Now he’s in prison, where he’s probably scamming other inmates for their gruel. Like the guy earlier, this one wants a time limit. I tell him ten seconds.
“That’s it?” he says.
“That’s all I’ll need.”
He looks the bottle over again, then puts two fives on the bar.
“Do it,” he says, then starts his ten count.
I go to dip my finger into a penny-sized drip of water on the bar when a hand from behind shoots out and wraps around my wrist. I snap my head, and who is standing there determined to watch me lose ten dollars? Darby West.
“You’re down to eight seconds,” she says.
“You’ll do anything to hold my hand,” I say.
“You’re lucky I’m not breaking it. Five seconds.”
It’s a lost cause. Darby wants me to struggle, but even if I was a professional arm-wrestler, I couldn’t overpower her. I could awkwardly try the water-on-the-toothpick move with my right hand, but I’ve lost too much time, and there’s no point in looking like an idiot over ten dollars. The guy beside me is watching us, wondering if this is somehow part of the bet, some angle he didn’t see coming. But it’s me who didn’t see this coming.
“I think ten seconds are up,” Darby says.
The guy reaches for the money, and I don’t stop him. A bet’s a bet. He gets off the stool and spies us over his shoulder as he walks away, still thinking he’s missed something. If I told him it was a private matter between exes, he probably wouldn’t believe it.
“You’re not one to forgive and forget, are you?” I say.
“Never,” Darby says.
“I thought you had a private training session tonight.”
“They didn’t show. Why aren’t you off doing the deposit?”
“Already done,” I lie.
Darby stares me down hard for a full five seconds before deciding I’m not worth it and walks off to rejoin her friends. I’m left with a still-wet shirt from Katie, a ten-dollar hole in my pocket because of Darby, and a bruised ego after being stood up by Leyla. It’s definitely not my best night with the opposite sex. But I’m no quitter, so I down my beer, and order two more before moving closer to the front. On the way, I bump into a guy who looks like he eats raw squirrels for dinner. He shoves me hard before I sacrifice one of my beers in exchange for my life. Yet another narrow escape for Boone McReedy, tempter of women and tamer of wild beasts.
After forty minutes, I’m worn out from the day and stumbling for the exit when someone grabs a belt loop on the back of my jeans.
“Leaving before my dance lesson?”
I turn, and Leyla’s holding two beers and wearing a My Demonic Foreskin t-shirt with a short skirt and black and white striped tights. It’s exactly the hallucination I’d see after crawling in the desert for days without water.
“I was starting to think I’d seen a ghost this afternoon,” I say, taking the beer.
“I’m a girl of mystery,” Leyla says. “Cheers.”
We clink and drink.
“I have to say that is one outstanding shirt,” she says.
“Thanks, I made it myself.”
“Wow, dinosaur ventriloquist and now stylish shirt tailor. Is there anything you can’t do?”
“I have a hard time toning down my sexiness,” I say. “I try, though. I find it’s unfair to the entire species.”
“I can see that.”
“It’s a heavy cross to bear.”
We drink more and flirt more, and before I know it, Leyla’s dragging me to dance. Not to brag, but alongside my rugged good looks and undeniable humility, dancing is one of the most powerful weapons in my arsenal. Leyla and I drink and dance as Mo flails away on an amped-up version of “Johnny B. Goode.” Nearby, Parker dances with his girlfriend, Marlana, who’s grinding away on him like she’s trying to start a friction fire.
At some point, things get pretty blurry. I know there’s more beer and a lot more sweaty dancing. I’m pretty sure Leyla and I kiss too, but I can’t be sure. Like I said, it’s all one massive haze. Eventually, the music ends, the lights go on in The Underground, and flashforward to Leyla helping me into the backseat of The Destroyer. The last thing I remember before passing out is Leyla kissing me on the forehead.
“You’re cute,” she says, “and I’m sorry.”
Or maybe I dream that.
It’s not until the next day I know it wasn’t a dream.
It’s actually the start of just the opposite.
~ Author Chat ~
YABC: What gave you the inspiration to write this book?
Here’s the thing—I love writing and reading young adult. I teach high school, so I have a nice “in” on the world teens live in. However, for as much as I love the genre, I think there’s a lack of YA novels meant simply to be fun and funny. I want to write novels that readers can tear through pretty quickly and have a lot of laughs along the way. Teens have enough real drama in their life as it is.
Before I start writing a new book, I make a list of things I like, then I try to cram as many of those things into the book I’m working on. So, I love conmen, scams, bar bets, flea market weirdos, and banter between a couple who may or may not like each other. Put all of that together and you have THE SCAM LIST!
YABC: Who is your favorite character in the book?
Boone is probably the most like me (overconfident in his abilities, always playing an angle, a self-proclaimed rogue), but I enjoyed writing the kick-ass, take no crap, Darby West the most. My world is filled with tough, outspoken women (even my five-year-old daughter falls into this category), so it was fun and easy to use them as inspirations for Darby.
YABC: Which was the most enjoyable scene to narrate?
I love, love, loved writing the cons and scams Boone and Darby pulled off. It was a fun challenge—how do you write a con where the reader understands what is going on, but is surprised at the same time? It turns out, those are the parts early readers have loved the most as well.
YABC: Which came first, the title or the novel?
Confession time—I’m TERRIBLE with titles. My title of my first novel, the prank war book DON’T GET CAUGHT, was The Water Tower 5 for a long time until my publisher changed it, and thank goodness for that. THE SCAM LIST was titled Wanna Bet? from the start, but while I was writing it a popular memoir of the same name came out, so I changed it…but only after putting out a couple of polls to my readers to pick the one they liked best because I would likely have chosen something awful if I didn’t have help.
YABC: What do you like most about the cover of the book?
Claudean Wheeler designed my book cover, and boy is she brilliant. I just love the single image of a notebook in the middle of the road. And I love the blue and yellow color scheme because…shhhh…I can’t match clothes to save my life, so it was nice to have someone put it all together in an awesome, eye-catching cover.
YABC: Do you have a favorite writing snack?
My dad always called me a “junk food junkie”, and he was right. Gummi Bears, Jolly Ranchers, Nerds, Spree, Sweet Tarts, cookies, ice cream sandwiches…if it’s bad for you, I’m probably eating it while writing. At this point, it’s shocking that I still have my real teeth.
YABC: Thinking way back to the beginning, what’s the most important thing you've learned as a writer from then to now?
Oh, that’s easy: “Write it, then right it.” I allow myself to write what Anne Lamott calls the “sh*tty first draft”, then I fix it. It takes a lot of the pressure off since I don’t have to nail it the first time. Every author’s first draft is terrible, so I don’t fight it anymore.
YABC: Which part of the writing process do you enjoy more: Drafting or Revising?
Oh man, I HATE drafting a novel. My brain processes information so slowly that it takes me months and months to come up with ideas and write a full draft. But I LOVE revising because then I have something to work with and fix. I usually go through twelve or more drafts and revisions before the book is ready for the world. Fortunately, I love the revisions process. Again, “Write it, then right it.”
YABC: What’s up next for you?
In a perfect world, someone reading this interview will email me and tell me exactly what I should do next because I have NO idea. I’m a high school English teacher, and school starts up soon and which will obviously be interesting since, you know, masks and whatnot, so that will suddenly take over my life. But I’m hoping to write a sequel to THE SCAM LIST because I think Boone and Darby have more cons to pull, Boone has more poor decisions to make, and Darby has some more butt to kick. I hope readers want more from them as well.
The Scam List
By: Kurt Dinan
Publisher: Crime Spree Books
Release Date: August 3rd, 2020
Five winners will receive a copy of The Scam List (Kurt Dinan) ~ (US Only)
*Click the Rafflecopter link below to enter the giveaway*