EXCERPT FROM ROSS THOMAS’ “THE FOOLS IN TOWN ARE ON OUR SIDE.” Published in 1970. William Morrow & Co., publishers.
“Hain’t we got all the fools in town on our side? And ain’t that a big enough majority in any town?”
--Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn
“Well,” Ramsey Lynch said, “the symptoms started about a couple of months ago when this fella Homer Necessary came into town with his two-toned eyes (one blue, one gray) and started asking around. He didn’t come to any of us. He just nosed around asking questions that were sort of personal. We checked him out and found that he used to be a police chief himself up north. And not too honest a one at that, was he, Chief Loambaugh?”
“Crooked,” the FBI poster said. “Crooked as cat shit.”
“So after about a week or ten days of Mr. Necessary, we get your Mr. Victor Orcutt, and that curvy blonde girlfriend of his Carol Thackery. Well, she’s awfully young, but we’re kind of country down here and maybe we’re just not used to the likes of your Mr. Orcutt, especially if he’s messing around with all the wrong people.”
“Who’re they?” I said.
“Well, let’s just say they’re not on our side.”
“The folks, Mr. Dye,” Lynch said and his tone was no longer genial. “Mr. Lucifer Dye the folks in town are on our side.”
“Then what are you worried about?”
“Folks can get foolish if they catch the notion. And with a little investigation, we found out that your Mr. Orcutt was going to try to turn them into fools.”
Ross Thomas (1926-1995) was an American writer of crime fiction. He is best known for his witty thrillers that expose the mechanisms of professional politics. He also wrote several novels under the pseudonym Oliver Bleeck about professional go-between Philip St. Ives.
“I hear,” Lynch said in a gentle voice, “I hear that’s where you come in.”
I looked at my new watch. “I’ve been here for half an hour and you haven’t said anything yet. You’ve talked a lot, but it’s all been the kind of bullshit that I can hear in any four-table poolhall. You’ve got five more minutes, that’s all.”
“You know Gerald, my brother? And he said you were a little impatient, Mr. Dye.”
“He lies a lot.”
“But good. Well, since your time is limited, I’ll come to the point. We have some of our people in the other camp, so to speak, who tell us things, and they told us about how Mr. Orcutt was trying to find someone out in Asia who might be useful to him here in Swankerton. So, because Gerald located out there and all, I spent about a couple of hundred dollars of my own money and called him up, told him the situation, and asked him to do what he could. I think he did real fine.”
“By recommending me to Orcutt?”
“Well, he really recommended you to us first, if you know what I mean. He gave us a pretty good rundown on you and we told him to go ahead and recommend you to Mr. Orcutt. He said you’re pretty good, Mr. Lucifer Dye, but that you’re awfully unlucky. I’m serious now. Bad luck just seems to dog some people and from what I hear you are one of them. I mean what happened to your wife and all.”
“You can leave that alone,” I said.
Lynch nodded sympathetically. “I’m sorry I mentioned it. Really am. But you’ve had your share of bad luck, Mr. Dye. My brother seems to think that it’ll probably continue. But he made me promise him one thing before he would recommend you to Mr. Orcutt.”
“Well, Gerald isn’t really as superstitious about luck as he lets on. Deep down inside he really feels that people make their own. So he made me promise that we’d make some for you here in Swankerton. You can guess what kind. So you got a choice. We can either make you some bad luck or some good luck, despite what I promised my brother. Now just which one are you going to choose?”
The others in the room were all leaning forward a little staring at me.
“How much is good luck worth?” I said.
“Twenty-five percent more than what Orcutt’s paying you, whatever it is.”
“And how much is your bad luck going for?” I said.
The fat town boss shook his head sadly and his chins bobbed alone in funereal time. “Well, Mr. Dye, bad luck is just bad luck. Let’s say that the kind you might come by would be about as bad as luck can be.”
I rose and looked at the so-called city fathers gathered for my interview. I looked at each of them, one at a time. “I’ll think about it and let you know,” I said and then moved to the door, stopping only at the sound of Lynch’s voice. I turned and he was twisted around in his chair.
“Don’t study about it too long, Mr. Dye,” he said. “Neither good nor bad luck’ll wait forever.”
“You’re forgetting one kind,” I said.
“What’s that, Mr. Dye?”
“Dumb luck—the kind you’re going to need.”