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Why? Josh had done two years in the army after college, but this didn't seem to have anything to do with the army. He was listed with a temp agency on Pine Street in downtown Manhattan that year, and so he asked Fred Stern, the guy he dealt with there, if the check had anything to do with them, and Fred assured him it did not. "We don't give you money just for fun," he said, which was certainly true.
But somebody did. Like most temps, Josh was financially shaky in those days, so he deposited the check into his checking account, partly just to see if it would clear, and it did. So he had an extra thousand dollars. Found money.
A month later, it happened again. Another check, another thousand dollars, same payer, same bank, same lack of covering letter or any other kind of explanation.
This time, Josh studied the check a little more intently, and saw there was a phone number under United States Agent's address, with the 202 area code for Washington, DC. So he called it. The phone rang and rang; no answer.
The next day, he called the number again, with the same results. The day after that, he deposited the check in his checking account, and it cleared. And a month later another one arrived.
Who was giving him all this money? A thousand dollars a month, regular as clockwork, the checks dated the first of each month, arriving in his mailbox between the third and the fifth. No explanation, never an answer at that telephone number. He thought about writing them a letter, but then he realized the address on the checks was incomplete. Where on K Street? Without a house number, he couldn't hope to send them a letter.
The checks had first appeared in August. In January, it occurred to him that the puzzle would soon have to be resolved because the United States Agent, whoever they were, would have to send him a 1099 tax form. So he waited for it. He got the 1099 from the temp agency, and from two other very short-term employers, but nothing from United States Agent. Would he get in trouble if he didn't declare the five thousand dollars? But how could he declare it without the 1099? And what would he declare it as? And was he rich enough to volunteer to pay extra tax if he didn't absolutely have to? He was not.
A year and a half later he moved, to a better apartment on the West Side, having graduated from the temp life to an actual job as an advertising salesman for a group of neighborhood newspapers in Manhattan and the Bronx. He was sorry the monthly thousand dollars would end. But he had no way to send them a forwarding address, did he? So that was that. Except that, the third of the following month, the check came in just the same, addressed to him at his new apartment. How had they done that? How had they known he'd moved? It was more than a little creepy.
If he hadn't been spending the money all along, he might have tried sending it back at that point, except he couldn't. He couldn't send the money back any more than he could write United States Agent a letter, not without more of an address than K Street NE. He considered writing RETURN TO SENDER on the envelope, but the envelope, too, bore that same incomplete address printed on its upper left corner. In the end, though he felt somewhat spooked, he deposited the check.
In the third year of the mysterious checks, he went to work as an account rep at Sewell-McConnell Advertising on the Cloudbank toilet paper account, and the following year he married Eve, whom he'd been dating off and on for three years and living with for four months. He didn't mention the checks to her-which followed him to their new apartment-neither before nor after the wedding, and he realized this must mean that, at some level, he felt guilty about taking the money. He hadn't done anything for it, he didn't deserve it, the checks merely kept coming in. And in not telling her, he doubled his guilt, because now he also felt guilty that he was keeping this secret. But he kept it anyway.
Which Eve made easier, it must be said, by having ceded to him exclusive control of their checking account, even though she'd lived and worked successfully on her own in New York City for five years before they'd gotten together.
Josh didn't need the thousand dollars a month by then, and had come to realize it wasn't very much money at all. Twelve thousand dollars a year; a nice supplement to his income, no more. And, of course, tax free.
The next year, when he and Eve had young Jeremy and she quit her clerical job with a cable network, planning to be a full-time mom until Jeremy entered nursery school at four, the annual twelve thousand became a bit more meaningful again, but by that time it was simply a part of his life, the check that came in every month, year after year, as natural as breathing. He had stopped telling himself he didn't deserve it, because if it came in so steadily, every single month, with no complaints, no demands made against him, maybe he did deserve it.
It was July fifteenth, a hot sunny Friday afternoon, and Josh was seated at the ferry terminal in Bay Shore, waiting for the ferry to take him over to Fire Island, where he and Eve had rented a small house for the month. She and Jeremy were out there full time, Josh spending long weekends. Jeremy was two, and on August first the checks would have been coming in for a full seven years, crossing with Josh into the new millennium. Josh was secure enough in his job at the ad agency now to be able to take off Friday afternoons and Monday mornings, which meant he never had to ride the extremely crowded ferries packed with those whose weekends were shorter; the Daddy Boat on Friday evening, the Goodbye Daddy Boat on Sunday evening, or the so-called Death Boat at six-thirty Monday morning.
There were only thirty or forty people in the shade of the roofed dock, seated on the long benches waiting for the ferry, none of them anyone Josh knew. Then a man came over and sat down beside him and smiled and said, "Hello."
"Hi," Josh said, and looked away. Most people didn't speak to strangers out here, and Josh agreed with them. The man kept smiling at Josh. He was about forty, olive-skinned, fleshy-faced but muscular, with thick curly black hair. He was in chinos and a polo shirt and sneakers, like everybody else. "I am from United States Agent," he said. Josh looked at him. Sudden dread clenched his stomach. His mouth was dry. He tried to speak, but couldn't.
The man leaned closer. "You are now active," he said.
Excerpted from Money For Nothing by Donald E. Westlake Copyright © 2003 by Donald E. Westlake
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Posted September 1, 2003
Donald Westlake has done it again! More than just an entertaining story here folks - there's a lesson - aint nothin' for free! Ever received a 'check' in the mail from someone you don't know - free money? Mr. Westlake has weaved a terrifying tale of worst case scenario for those who opt to cash in on their 'good fortune'. Scary, but oh so entertaining! A must read! If you liked Ax - you can't miss here!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 9, 2008
Advertising executive Josh Redmont waits for the ferry to take him to Fire Island where he will join his wife and child on vacation. However, a stranger informs John that 'You are now active.' For seven years, John has been the recipient of a monthly one grand check from the United States Agency that he thought was an error, but eventually from his country. Now this USA wants to collect. He is expected to help foreign nationals assassinate the premier of a foreign nation visiting Yankee Stadium...................... Josh¿s New York apartment will serve as a safe house. Unbeknownst to the former sleeper agent who didn¿t realize he was sleeping is that once the deed is done he becomes expendable too. Josh meets another recently activated former ingenuous sleeper, off-Broadway actor Mitch Robbie. They partner in an attempt to survive this fiasco......................... Take the seemingly impossible, blend inside the inconceivable, and mix that with the immovable and what do you get: another delightful wild ride by Donald E. Westlake. He takes an illogical scenario that when read in a short review or a cover inset appears crazy, but turns it into a stark thriller that hooks the audience into believing the unbelievable. MONEY FOR NOTHING takes he premise and runs with it so that the audience receives a taut thriller starring a delightful lead character supported by a strong cast. Readers who buy this book will know they spent money for something worth reading.................... Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 28, 2011
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