Fiction by Wayne Scheer
The craziness started when I woke up from a dream and quit my job.
I had no idea what I was dreaming because as soon as my eyes popped
open the dream dissolved like a movie fadeout. Without thinking, I grabbed my
cell phone from my nightstand and speed-dialed my boss to tell him my decision.
Tom is also a friend, and he offered me his honest reaction. “Go to hell,
Robert. It’s 4:30 in the freaking morning.”
I thanked him for the time of day. “The reason I’m quitting,” I said, “is
because of a dream that I forgot the moment I woke up.”
“What are you talking about?” Tom’s voice grew louder. “Go back to
sleep before I remember this conversation.” I heard him tell his wife that I was
“I haven’t remembered a dream in years, Tom. Do you know what that
“It doesn’t mean anything,” he said.
“Look, I used to have dreams. Sometimes they scared the hell out of me.
Sometimes I woke up laughing. Or thinking. But I remembered them.”
“So?” Tom was shouting now.
“If dreams represent a person’s inner life, I have no inner life.”
He lowered his voice. “You best sober up fast, pal. We meet with
Leonard at eight. We should both be able to celebrate after that.”
“I’m not drunk,” I said. “Besides, I just quit, so I don’t care about Leonard
or the meeting.”
Tom growled another obscenity and hung up.
I threw my cell phone across the room, scaring the hell out of myself.
Violent outbursts weren’t like me. I tend not to show emotion, even to myself.
The phone sounded like it shattered when it hit the wall, but without my glasses
I couldn’t see for sure. What surprised me most was that I didn’t care.
I felt so liberated that I laughed aloud.
Then I started shaking. Then sobbing.
I was shocked. I hadn’t even cried at my mother’s funeral a year earlier.
I was too busy playing the good son, calming her friends and assuring them she
had felt no pain. One day she was complaining how she’d never have
grandchildren if Katherine and I didn’t marry soon; the next day she was dead
of a brain aneurysm. “She’s in a better place now,” I kept repeating idiotically.
Katherine stood at my side throughout the ordeal.
I washed my face and felt strangely alive. No other word comes to mind.
I even developed what I took to be hunger pains.
Less than an hour later, I was at Bates Truck Stop on I-85, devouring a
T-bone steak, eggs, and potatoes. I had always wanted to order the steak and
eggs special at a greasy diner, but never dared. The last time I had a steak, well
over a month ago, I paid thirty dollars. This one cost $8.99, and it came with
two eggs sunny-side up and hash browns. I ordered the steak rare. The red
blood mixed with the yellow egg to form a goo that wasn’t quite pink or orange,
more like the color of the desert sky at sunset.
When you order a thirty-dollar steak, there’s no ketchup at the table. Here
I had the choice of ketchup, three kinds of steak sauce, and a green chili sauce.
I decided to add a drop of each, and sop it up with a piece of greasy toast.
Nothing I ever ate tasted better.
I expected my ulcers to start burning any minute, so I automatically reached
for my Zantac. But I felt fine. Better than fine. I felt downright exuberant.
When the waitress asked if there was anything else I wanted, I almost ordered
another steak. Instead, I said, “No thanks, sweetheart.” I think that was the
first time in my life I had ever uttered aloud the word “sweetheart.”
My mother wanted me to grow up to be a gentleman. And gentlemen
show good table manners, she always said.
I pushed the potatoes and goo onto my fork with the side of my index
finger. I may not have become a gentleman, but I did grow into a tightass
financial analyst with an ulcer and an MBA from Stanford. And I wasn’t
even thirty. With Tom verging on a promotion, I was due to move up the
ladder another rung to senior financial analyst. We suspected that was why
Leonard had called the eight o’clock meeting.
I picked up the steak bone and yanked at the last bit of meat with my
front teeth. Blood and grease and egg and ketchup dripped down my lips.
I looked around the restaurant. A few people, mostly men in baseball
caps, ate as they read newspapers, scanned maps, or just stared into space.
No one cared about my poor table manners, my dreams, my cell phone, my
upcoming promotion, or that Katherine and I had just broken up.
She accused me of not being much fun. “You never take chances,” she
“I’m a glorified accountant, for Chrissake. I get paid not to take risks.”
She said she still loved me, but didn’t like me anymore. I told her for an
assistant D.A. with hopes of becoming a judge someday, that was the dumbest
sentence I had ever heard. I laughed. She didn’t.
She moved out the same day, just two days earlier. It already seemed
much longer. I found out later she had been planning the move for a while. She
even put a down payment on a new condominium. So she moved out cleanly,
no apartment searching, no awkward sleeping in the spare bedroom.
This wasn’t our only breakup. But this was the first time she put any
forethought into it. Last time, we had tickets to see Cats at the Fox the day
after we broke up, and neither of us wanted to give them up. So we went
together as friends and got back together later that night.
To my surprise, thinking that Katherine was really gone made me feel
relieved, even giddy.
It was still a little before six in the morning. I considered popping a
couple of Zantac and going home to prepare for the meeting with Leonard. No
sense in throwing away a perfectly good job just because I had a dream I
couldn’t remember and craved steak and eggs at a truck stop. But I felt so
damn good, I wasn’t sure what to do.
So, I picked up a hooker.
What happened was I paid my bill, and just as I stepped out of the
restaurant a woman asked me if I had the time. I stared, not quite sure I had
heard her right. She looked about my age, maybe a little younger, and had a
toothy smile that appeared oddly off-center. Her make-up was Barnum and
Bailey thick, and she tottered on heels. She wore shorts and a tight top, cut
low enough to hint at her breasts. My first thought was that this was some kind
of Halloween prank.
But she looked good. Cute would be a more apt description, despite the
make-up and the costume. Katherine was the kind of woman people call
attractive, never cute. Judging from this woman’s firm body, she obviously kept
in shape. I stopped thinking like a financial planner who calculated his every
Always articulate and ready with a quick retort, I said something like,
She repeated herself, smiled, and turned toward the truck parking lot.
“Where’s your rig?”
She thought I was a trucker. I puffed out my chest a little. Finally, I said,
“Over here,” pointing to the front lot and my sensible gray Volvo XC90.
The next thing I knew, I was asking if she wanted to go for a ride.
“Are you sure you want—?”
“Yes,” I said quickly, afraid I’d change my mind.
My knees wobbled and I almost fell down. She took my arm. What the
hell was I doing? This wasn’t me. I was the good boy who did the right thing,
worked hard in college, impressed the boss at work. Now I was opening the
passenger door of my car to let in a hooker. Was this the new me? The risk-
“How much?” I asked, still the financial genius.
“Depends what you want.” She listed her prices so matter-of-factly, I
thought for a moment she might sideline at Firestone Tires.
I checked my wallet and saw that I had only enough cash for oral. But
when I took out the money and told her my choice, she pulled a badge from
her purse and said I was under arrest. She took out a little card and read me
my rights, just like on TV. I was too dazed to listen, but I did wonder why she
didn’t have them memorized.
A blinding light hit my eyes. Squinting, I saw a large black man with a
badge and flashlight. He pulled open my door and asked me to get out of the
“I’ve never done anything like this before,” I said, hoping to impress him
as a good citizen.
“Uh-huh,” he said. “Lean over the car and spread your legs.”
Me. Robert Feingold, an A student who never even smoked pot in college.
I was being searched.
He asked for my car keys and driver’s license and walked off, talking on
his cell phone.
A moment later, he pulled up in a patrol car and the hooker cop helped me
into the back seat, saying, “Watch your head.” Again, just like on TV. She told
me she’d dispense with the handcuffs if I promised to be a good boy.
I’ve always been a good boy, I thought.
For the second time in a little more than an hour, I cried. I was sitting in
the back seat of the police car, and I was shaking. I tried my best to hold back
the sobs, but a couple escaped. Officer Hooker—she’d told me her real name
but I had forgotten it—turned to look at me. Our eyes met. For a second, I
thought she felt almost as embarrassed as I did. Almost. She, at least, was
doing her job. I had no idea what I was doing.
Although scared out of my mind, I also felt energized. I began talking
quickly. Later, I couldn’t remember a word I’d said.
At the police station, she put me in handcuffs. “Procedure,” she said. She
asked if they were too tight. Not knowing how tight they were supposed to be,
I said they were fine. The metal was cold, but I didn’t dare complain. She
took me to a large, busy room with a metal door that she unlocked. It closed
with a jolt behind us. Just as we entered, she said, “I have to search you again,”
and she had me turn and lean against the wall. Her search was thorough.
She apologized as she patted down my crotch.
She pointed to a chair beside a desk and told me to sit down, she’d be
right back. Removing the handcuffs, she asked a uniformed officer to keep an
eye on me.
There were other desks and people in the room, but I swear I couldn’t
see any of them. What I did see were small cells, with bars, on the far side of
the room. I thought that I probably needed a lawyer, but the ones I knew were
Katherine’s friends, prosecutors from the D.A.’s office. The other lawyers I
knew were tax attorneys. For a moment, I worked on a pun involving my
liability, but the steak and eggs made a sudden appearance. No one seemed
to notice me coughing up my breakfast, but soon an elderly black man
unlocked the metal doors, pushing a mop and pail. He offered me paper towels
from a roll on his cart, and I thanked him. As I wiped my pants and shoes,
I said, “I guess I’m not the first to throw up here.”
He looked up and almost smiled. “I work steady,” he said.
The officer who was babysitting me brought over a cup of water and
escorted me to the men’s room.
A little while later, I was fingerprinted. I filled out more forms than I do
at the job. A new uniformed officer escorted me back to the locked room. He
took off his guns and secured them in a locker next to the metal door before we
entered. I sat back in my chair. Finally, a woman in uniform sat down at the
desk and began typing information into a computer. Officer Lattner, she said
her name was. I didn’t recognize her at first, but she was the officer who had
arrested me. Her dark hair was pulled back, and she looked like she had just
scrubbed her face clean.
She told me there had been complaints of prostitution at the truck stop,
and she was sorry I had gotten involved. The kind words meant so much to me,
I wanted to reach over and kiss her. I knew that was a bad idea. She said she
had tried having the charges dropped, but I had to go through the system and
would be charged with a misdemeanor. Handing me a list of bondsmen, she
suggested I call one. She also whispered that I should call a lawyer. Meanwhile,
she filled out forms.
It was 7:30 when I finally became aware of time. Not knowing what else
to do, I called Tom’s cell phone. He was already at work.
“I’m at the police station,” I told him.
Jokingly, he asked, “What are you in for?”
“Listen, I need your help,” I said. “I’ll explain later.”
Finally, I got it across to him that I needed a lawyer. A criminal lawyer.
Fast. He assured me he’d make some calls. “I hope you don’t mind me not
coming to the station, buddy. I’ll cover for you when I see Leonard.”
As if I cared about Leonard.
The lawyer called within minutes saying he was a friend of Tom. He
showed up about an hour later. After more waiting, I was given a court date
and released on my own recognizance. The lawyer said he’d take care of
everything. He said something about entrapment.
“Just get me out of here. I want to go home.” I felt my throat burning and
I feared I’d start crying again. He put his hand on my shoulder. Now I wanted
to kiss him.
As an officer returned my wallet and keys, I was told that my car was in
an impound lot on the other side of town. My lawyer said he was due in court
and couldn’t drive me home. Outside, I called a cab and sat on a bench in front
of the police station to wait.
I should be at work, I thought. I should be in my cubicle, staring at
my computer, crunching numbers. That’s where I belong. I wondered if
my adventurous morning would impress Katherine. “The hell with her,” I said
aloud, scaring a flock of pigeons that had gathered at my feet.
Just then I heard a woman’s voice. “Are you waiting for a ride home?”
It was Officer Lattner. She still had that embarrassed look in her eyes.
When I told her I was waiting for a cab, she said she was off duty and offered
me a ride. “Just follow behind me,” she said. “I’m in the lot across the street.
I don’t want anyone to see you leaving with me. I’d never hear the end of it.”
I figured, what the hell? I used the pay phone to cancel the cab and
walked a safe distance behind. She had an older car, a red Ford Mustang, and
I got in, making sure I buckled my seat belt.
“Thanks for the ride,” I said.
She didn’t say anything as she backed out of her space. After a while she
turned toward me and smiled. “One hell of a crazy morning, huh?” The top
right corner of her upper lip remained straight as the rest of her mouth curved
upward. It was the kind of smile that looked sinister on Dick Cheney, but on
her it was cute.
“Not my typical morning.” I didn’t know what else to say. “I live off
“I know,” she said. “I did a background check on you. Remember?”
“What else do you know about me?”
“I know you keep a clean car. You’re a lot better educated with a better
job than most of the people I meet around here. I’m pretty sure you don’t
normally pick up hookers. What I don’t know is what you were doing at the
Bates Truck Stop at six in the morning.”
“It’s a long story,” I said. I wondered for a second if she was still
interrogating me for her report, but I relaxed and told her about not
remembering my dream. I told her about calling Tom, smashing my cell phone,
and craving steak and eggs. I looked at the stains on my pants leg and felt
“Sounds to me like you’re leaving something out. There has to be a
I smiled, nodding. “An ex-girlfriend.”
For the next twenty minutes, we talked. I asked about her job.
“It’s not what I thought it would be, being a cop. I know it sounds corny,
but I wanted to help people and I didn’t want to be a nurse like my mom. But
most of the time I’m just doing paperwork. This was my first undercover
assignment and look how great it went.”
I took a chance. “It seems to be working out pretty well.” I looked over
at her. I wasn’t sure how to read her crooked smile.
When she pulled into my driveway, I thanked her again and asked if she
wanted to come in. She said I needed a shower and a change of clothes more
than I needed company. I couldn’t argue with that.
I asked if I could call her. She said she’d call me, and reminded me that
she had my phone number. There was that crooked smile again.
“By the way,” she said, before I started to get out of the car. “My name
We shook hands. I was afraid I held hers a bit too long.
The phone rang as soon as I got into the house. It was Tom, and I let the
message machine take it. There were already seven messages—five from Tom
and two from Katherine. I didn’t care what either had to say, although I
wanted to thank Tom for the lawyer. I wasn’t the slightest bit curious about
the meeting with Leonard or what Katherine had to say.
I showered and put on clean clothes. I felt hungry again. This time, I had
a bowl of All Bran with a banana and skim milk. After all, I was home. But I
did something I had never done before. I added three large spoonsful of sugar.
I had some serious thinking to do. I knew Tom had found a way to cover
for me with Leonard. The job was still there, if I wanted it. Katherine’s
messages meant that she, too, was still there.
But my mind wasn’t on my job or Katherine. I thought of Connie. I
looked up her name in the phone book, but she wasn’t listed. Of course, I
thought. She’s a cop. Imagine the calls she might get.
What if she doesn’t call? I thought. She was probably just being polite.
Why would she call someone she had just arrested for trying to pick up a
While I was rinsing out my cereal bowl, the phone rang.
“Hey,” she said. “I understand your car’s at the impound lot. Need a
I swear I felt my heart pound at the sound of Connie’s voice. I didn’t
know where the afternoon would take me, but the day seemed to be shaping
up just fine.
After teaching writing and literature in college for twenty-five years, Wayne
Scheer retired to follow his own advice and write. He’s been nominated
for a Pushcart Prize and a Best of the Net. His work has appeared in The
Christian Science Monitor, The Pedestal, SmokeLong Quarterly,
Pindeldyboz, The Potomac, Monday Magazine, Stone Table Review,
and other journals. Scheer lives with his wife in Atlanta and can be contacted
On “One Crazy Morning”:
For whatever reason, perhaps a hint from my Muse, I wrote the
opening sentence where a man wakes up from a dream and “craziness
happens.” I had no idea who the character was, other than he was
male, and I had no idea what craziness he would face. My first thought
was to make up a nightmare, but as I imagined this, I realized how rare
it is for me to remember my own dreams. So I went with him waking
up to a dream he couldn’t recall and had him quit his job because of
what he perceived to be a lack of inner life. Now I had to create a story
that would make this action seem reasonable. What had happened to
the character to have “emptied” him like this? Why was he alone?
More immediately, what would a man do after quitting his job?
Personally, I’d eat. So I had him eat. The next question was what
trouble could he get himself into at a truck stop early in the morning?
I thought a hooker would be fun.
Once I had him arrested, I faced a new problem: I've never seen the
inside of a police station, never yet the “holding cells.” So I emailed my
online critique group (Internet Writing Workshop) and asked specifically
what happens to a person’s car when they’re arrested. I heard from a
few former cops who offered more police procedure information than I
ever want to know. One suggested that cops and “perps” weren’t really
enemies, as depicted on TV, and sometimes even developed friendships.
There was my story.
I don’t always write this way. Sometimes I start with an idea or
theme, sometimes I have a key scene in mind. Often, I develop the
characters in my head long before I create a story for them. But when
magic happens, and a whole story unfolds from an opening sentence or
scene, it’s great fun for me and, I hope, the reader because we’re both
discovering what happens next.
Of course, after the story is written, the real work begins—editing.
“One Crazy Morning” went through at least six drafts.
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Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of Contemporary
Volume 2, Number 1
Copyright © 2007
by Leah Browning, Editor.
All future rights to material
published in the Apple
Valley Review are retained
by the individual authors