The Counterfeiters by Mark Kodama

I.

   Sam and Billie watched dust rise from the potato harvester as the sun began to set. Nightfall was fast approaching. Under the cover of darkness they would be able to fill their dirty canvas sacks with potatoes. Living the life of true artists had its drawbacks, one of them paying for their next meal. Eating canned tuna and macaroni and cheese every night had become tedious. They could taste the dust in the October air. At this point they were too hungry to care. The check from their last gig was spent on rent and they still were two months behind.

 They looked at each other as Billie offered Sam the last sip of her Red Bull. He smiled. “Go ahead,” he said. She looked so beautiful when the wind blew her silky brown hair into her face. 

  They waited until midnight before climbing the chain link fence that surrounding the farm. “We’ll only take what we can use,” Sam whispered.

  “Look at his farmhouse,” Billie said. “He has more than enough potatoes to sell.”

  In the morning, Billie bought a loaf of cheap white bread and mayonnaise at the supermarket while Sam shoplifted a couple of eggs and some oranges He later boiled the eggs and Billie made egg salad sandwiches for the band.

  Together, they went to Freddie’s house to rehearse. Billie sang lead. Sam with his broken sunglasses played lead guitar. Freddie who lived with his parents played bass. Marlon, the drummer, brought some beer and they jammed until the early afternoon when people would be returning to their suburban homes from work.

  They also practiced some country and Western songs for their weekend gig. The band preferred alternative rock but certain compromises had to be made. It was Dolly Parton weekend at Big Ed’s Whiskey Saloon in Boise. Sam and Billie had their Stetsons, plaid shirts, dungarees and cowboy boots purchased a used clothing store. Sam and Billie even put on a faux country and Western accent. At least, they were playing music.

  When Bille and Sam returned to their basement hovel that night, they found the landlord slipped their mail under the door. It was mostly junk mail, except for a letter addressed to Sam from a law office in Athens, Georgia.

  Sam’s Uncle Pete had died without a will or a wife or children. Sam was his nearest living relative. Uncle Pete had raised Sam – sort of – after Sam had lost his mother and father in an automobile accident. 

  Uncle Pete, the old curmudgeon, owned a small newspaper and printing press. Uncle Pete had long retired and shut down the newspaper but he still owned the printing press and left Sam a million dollars.

  The lawyer Paul Stone, Esq. asked Sam to call him at his office as soon as possible to make arrangements to come to Athens.

II.

   Stone and Stone was located in a three-story red brick office building across the street from the county courthouse. Mr. Stone sent Sam two plane tickets to Atlanta and paid for a rental car from the proceeds of the estate. It was a nice clean building but not ostentatious. Greek style columns with simple Ionic capitals supported the white portico in front of the building.  

 Sam wore the suit Uncle Pete had given him upon graduating from high school. Ten years and hundreds of beers later, the suit had become tight. Indeed, it hurt Sam’s now slightly protruding stomach as he sat on the hard leather coach outside of Mr. Stone’s office.

 Mildred, Mr. Stone’s secretary, politely served Sam and Billie cans of soda served on a fine silver tray. She offered ice-filled glass tumblers but Sam and Billie drank their sodas directly from the can.

  “That’s okay,” Mildred told them. “We are used to working with clients from all walks of life.”

  Sam and Billie were 30 minutes early for their appointment. The waiting room was paneled with dark cherry wood and filled with legal books. After an hour, Mildred stood up from behind her desk and approached Sam and Billie.

  “Mr. Stone will see you now,” she said.  

  Mr. Stone was about the same age as Sam and Billie. He had a dark suit, red tie, dark hair combed back with gray eyes. His large cherry wood desk was clean except for a lap top computer, phone and a hard lime green folder. He came from behind his desk and shook Sam and Bille’s hand. He walked with a slight limp, from a knee injury playing foorball at Ol’ Miss. His hand was ice cold and as hard as granite.

  “Sam, I’m A. Phillip Stone, III.”

  “Nice to meet you, Mr. Stone,” Sam said. “This is my girlfriend Billlie.”

  Mr. Stone said “Nice to meet you Billie. Well, let’s get down to it. The estate is paying me by the hour and I don’t want to waste your money. Your Uncle Pete left you his printing press and about a million dollars in cash. He had at one time much more but much of it went to pay for his medical and nursing care bills. I had to sell his home on Maple Street to pay some of his debts.

   “His printing press is being stored in the Old Cotton Building which is also now yours. Here are the keys.”

***

   That afternoon. Sam and Billie went to Wayne’s Steakhouse to celebrate. The steakhouse was first-class all the way with walnut wood paneling and a fresh rose and candle at every white-cloth table.

  “I know what I’m going to get,” Sam said.

 “What’s that, honey?”

  “Oh, I see I have been upgraded, my princess,” Sam said.

 Billie giggled. “You better slow down.”

 “I’m having the surf and turf and raw seafood platter as a starter. And forget the cheap beer. I am having California . . . no . . . French wine.”

  “I’ll just have a burger and soda.”

  “What?”

 “Had you ever thought that this is only a million dollars?”

 “Yes. And we are now millionaires.”

 “How far is that really going to get us these days?”

 “You are ruining my moment.”

 “No, I am going to help you make this moment last forever.”

  “How so?”

“Have you thought of what we can do with that printing press?”

 “Yeah, we can sell it. I’m sure we can get something for it.”

 “Why not make living from it?”

  “What? Make free flyers for our concerts, Billie? I know nothing about newspapers.”

  “That’s not my idea.”

  “Then what do you have in mind?

  “I will tell you but not here.”

III.

  When Sam and Billie went to the Old Cotton Building, the old black press was covered in a thick layer of dust.

 “I don’t know about this Billie,” Sam said. “I have my doubts.”

“Have some confidence in yourself,” Billie said. “We can pull this off.” 

 “I like being a musician – a true artist.”

 “How many more times are you willing to play My Achy, Breaky Heart? And you look like an idiot wearing a cowboy hat and cheap vinyl boots with your fake Johnny Cash accent.”

  “What if we get caught?”

 “We’ll never get caught.”

  “What makes you say that? Haven’t you ever seen America’s Most Wanted?”

  “I’m shaking my head,” Billie said.

 “You are talking about breaking the law.”

 “I’m talking about not going hungry any more. I stuck with you through some pretty bad times.”

Sam nodded his head. “Okay. What do we do?”

***

  Sam cleaned and oiled the printing press. Miraculously, it still ran. He  ordered 24-weight cotton paper. He cut off the corner off a dollar bill and sent it to an ink company, asking that it send him the same shade of green.

  He ordered the state of the art copying machine and copied new twenty collar bills. Sam and Billie were soon printing their own twenty-dollar bills.    

   When Sam and Billie drove through the local fast-food drive through, Sam’s voice cracked and beads of sweat poured from his forehead  

  “Easy, Sam,” Billie whispered.

 Sam ordered a coke. Billie took a counterfeit twenty from her purse and handed it to the cashier with a smile.

  The cashier headed Sam his coke with his change in real money.

Afterward, Sam vomited. 

***

  Sam looked great in his handmade suit, soft leather Italian shoes and Boss tie. Sam and Billie felt great traveling down Interstate-40 in their brand new C-class Mercedes Benz with rear end warmers in their soft leather seats.

  Although Billie had put on 20-pounds she still looked great. “Do I look fat?” she asked looking the rear-view mirror.

 “No, you look great,” Sam reassured her.”

 “No, I look fat.”

 “Well, there is more of you to love,” Sam said and squeezed her thigh.

 “Sam!”

 “I’m joking, babe,” he said and kissed her face.

  “Hey, look, another McDonalds.”

IV.

  When Sam and Billie arrived at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, they checked into their hotel room and then hit the black jack tables. The gaming room was dark. Even though it was more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit outside, the air conditioning inside made Billie shiver with cold.

 Sam and Billie had passed more than $10,000 at the Casino tables playing black jack. Billie felt dizzy so she went upstairs to take a nap.    

  A beautiful young Asian woman with a low-cut blouse stood at Sam’s elbow. “Do you mind if I bring you luck?” she asked.

  “No, not at all. My name is Sam.”

 “Cynthia.”

 And man oh man what luck she did bring.

  Sam won $20,000 over the next hour. 

 Afterwards, Sam cashed in his chips and invited Cynthia for a drink. Soon, they were in Cynthia’s hotel room. Sam loved Billie. Cynthia was pure pleasure. Every fantasy he had ever been too afraid to ask Billie, Cynthia did without Sam even asking. It was if she could read his mind. 

 “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” Cynthia whispered after their final kiss. Sam gave her a thousand dollars in real money.

***

  Billie caught up with Sam at the craps tables. Although Sam lost $5,000, he was still $15,000 in the black.

 Afterward, Sam and Billie went to play in the arcade to relax. The cashier tore the corner of counterfeit twenty Sam gave her, finding it was fake.

 She alerted security who held Sam and Billie until the feds arrived. Upon questioning both Sam and Billie admitted to their crimes.

  And now Sam is in the Folsom Prison band singing “the Folsom Prison Blues.”

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