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353 pages
5 hours
Sep 3, 2009


Pepper is a college professor of English Lit who cannot get his own book published. Sick of rewriting and resumitting it, he tosses the ms into a recycling bin. Hank, the trash man, finds it. He has connections in the publishing world. Hank soon has a best-seller on his hands and a pending movie sale. The conflict between these two propels the action from Tucson to show biz in Santa Monica.

Sep 3, 2009

Despre autor

Born 9/15-22 in Oklahoma CityHigh school: Visalia, CA 1940UC Berkeley, CA Honors in Spanish 1951Service in WWII: Brasil and Ascension Island. Self-taught Portuguese.Language didn't provide a living, became CPA in 1960 and practiced in Big Bear, CA. Private pilot for fun and business; ditto motorcycles.Wrote for pulps in college; extensive non-fiction as both ghost and by-line. Handfull of short stories. Ebook novels as a sideline.

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Trash - William von Reese


Chapter 1

Pepper picked up the hard copy of his manuscript and tapped the edges on his desk to align the stack, then dropped it into a used cardboard container, beat up from many round trips across the country. He was thinking, Here goes four hundred and thirty-three pages of bond paper that had cost him a fortune to print at Kinko's. He was not going to edit this turkey novel ever again.

Dropping the stack of paper into the box had the finality of burying a corpse. Pepper felt a mix of relief and regret. The book was, after all, his brainchild. And he was killing it off--if not outright murder, a belated and retroactive abortion.

Flash was the title of the novel he had toiled over for three years now. He had sent it to publishers countless times, then to literary agents (where he had to pay a reading fee), and finally to paid coaches who promised to help him with a rewriting that would make the book more publishable. All for nothing.

Pepper had had it. At the beginning he had felt full of hope when he mailed out a fresh manuscript, but as rejections piled up over the months and years, that hope had turned to dread. Flash had become an albatross around his neck. Or maybe a turkey.

He picked up the battered box from his desk and walked it out to his garage, where he dropped it into a blue plastic recycling bin. The bin was emptied weekly on Wednesdays by the local waste truck that came by his house. Today was Tuesday. One more day to go. He wondered if he would cave in and snatch the box back before the truck came. It was hard to give up on three years of unpaid labor.

A stomach pang told him it was lunch time. He was feeling celebratory, now, actually. He would pour a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon to go with lunch, a frozen Pizza 4-1 for the microwave. He was used to fixing and eating lunch alone. His wife, Amanda. whom he called Mandy, was at work in her doctor’s office.

After the wine and his favorite food, he remembered the abundance of notes, files and correspondence relating to his ill-fated bomb, Flash. Pepper had reached the flash point, all right. Now that he had made up his mind, he would set to work to eliminate every last trace of that sucker from his life.

From the bottom drawer of his filing cabinet, he pulled out manila folders labeled Flash Notes. There were many of them, numbered from one to seven. A three-ring binder held all the Flash correspondence with agents, publishers and coaches. He piled the binder atop the manila folders and took the whole stack out to the blue bin, which was now getting full. He arranged the manuscript box on top of the materials in the bin to act as paperweight. Sometimes the desert mornings were breezy. He didn't want evidence of his writing failure blowing throughout the neighborhood.

Better. He was feeling even better, a feeling akin to losing twenty pounds. He was thinking, How burdened we are with the stuff of our creation, with the detritus of our hopes. He poured another glass of wine and sipped it as he relaxed in his recliner. No classes on Tuesday, today. It was rightfully his day off from teaching, even though, technically, he was still toiling in the vast fields of English Lit--even though such toil at home had to do only with his own failed produce.

He glanced at the clock, noting that Mandy would be home by 5:30, A squiggle of uneasiness attacked his gut. What would she think about his divestment? No mind, he reassured himself. He would tell her tomorrow, after the truck had hauled away his dead albatross. Once the trash man dumped the contents of that bin into the great maw of the white truck there would be no turning back.

After all, it was his own time he had wasted: nights, weekends, vacations and sabbaticals over the last three years. In one sense Mandy had no right to argue with his decision to trash Flash. And yet, as a marriage partner, she did have a community concern in the product of his labors, just as he shared in the income generated by her job as office manager of a medical practice.

Pepper turned on the TV cable news, poured a third glass of wine, and waited for Mandy's car to pull into the garage. Maybe there would be something special on PBS tonight, like a bonnet movie. That would get Mandy's attention and hold it. Keep her from questioning him about the manuscript box--if she spotted it in the bin as she walked through the garage.


Mandy turned into her street, Deerlick Court, while reaching for the garage door opener clipped to the sun visor. She pressed the action bar, and the steel door clattered up. She drove into her garage, picked up her purse from the passenger seat, and walked around her car toward the door to the attached house. On the way she glanced at the blue plastic recycling bin on the floor.

On top of the week’s accumulation, to be picked up tomorrow, she spotted a white cardboard box used for storing bond paper. The box, once emptied of its virginal content, then served as an ideal shipping container. On the top surface of the box was written in marker pen the word "Flash, the tentative title of Pep's novel in manuscript, over which he had been toiling for the past three years. Constant journeys though the mail had frazzled the box, giving it a beaten and dejected look. Pep would switch that last adjective to rejected," she knew.

Inside, she could see Pep's head above the back of his recliner, where he sat watching cable news on TV. Hi! she said, as she walked behind his chair, frazzling his hair as she passed, and continued into the bedroom. There she parked her purse and changed into evening wear: denim jeans and T-shirt. She decided to delay mentioning the manuscript box until after the newscast.

When she at last brought up the discarded novel in the recycling bin, Pep's mouth contorted as if he had bitten into a dill pickle.

Are you sure, Pep? I just hate to see three years of work out the window. Mandy looked earnest, concerned. Do you really mean to trash it?

Pep nodded, not wanting to talk about it.

Would you pour me some wine? Mandy asked. I see you've had yours.

Pep got up and headed for the kitchen. Wine before dinner was a long-standing tradition. He returned to the living room with her glass of red, then handed it to her where she sat in her matching recliner.

Mandy swirled the wine in her tulip-shaped glass then cautiously sniffed the aroma. She took a tentative sip. Immediately her face contorted in distaste.

Was this bottle already opened?

Pep nodded.

It's turned. Would you mind pouring me a glass of that white in the fridge?

When Pep returned with the new wine, she switched the TV to the classical music channel and turned the volume down low.

Shouldn't you at least burn it? Or shred it?

Pep shook his head in negation. We have no fireplace or incinerator. It would take forever to shred four hundred pages. I'm not about to throw good hours after bad.

Who knows what goes on in those landfills.

"Trash and garbage is churned into the earth by bulldozers. Re-usable stuff goes to the recycling center. Paper is reduced to wood pulp and used to make fresh stock without chopping down more trees. Good title for today: How Green Is My Valley."

What if someone rescues it? Takes it out of the process?

Pep smiled. And does what with it? Gets it published? Lots of luck!

It's possible. Luck plays a big part in what gets printed.

Not likely. I've tried for over three years, and I am the author.

Mandy shrugged and took a sip of wine. It's your decision, honey. You are the one who's poured all that energy into the book. Instead of working your way up the academic ladder was the unspoken remainder of her message. Mandy was sensible in time/money matters.

Yeah, I'm the author, all right. Winslow Pepper, the most widely unpublished novelist in Southern Arizona.

Mandy almost laughed with him. He did have a way with words. She'd give him that.

Chapter 2

It was warm for early May, Henry Hanks was thinking, as he rode the platform on the right side of the recycling truck. He wore work jeans and a hard hat painted green, fore-ordained because the name of his employer, as blazoned on the side of the truck, was Green Trash Disposal, Inc.

There were no clouds that morning, though, and the Arizona sun would quickly boost the temperature to the broiling point. Soon even the muscle shirt he wore that morning would feel too hot. The wind chill helped a little as the truck picked up speed on the highway between housing complexes.

Hank liked his job. The physicality of it felt good, like high school football practice used to feel. You learned to ignore the stench. The sun and dry air caressed his skin in a pleasant way, until the heat began to burn in the early afternoon. That's why his route began early in the morning and the day ended in mid-afternoon before the Arizona heat climaxed around six in the evening.

The truck slowed and turned into Canyon Echo, a neighborhood of some three hundred upscale, newish town houses. The truck headed first for the far reaches of the development, then worked the streets back toward the entrance.

Hank would use both gloved hands to pick up the recycling bins at the curb and empty them into the maw of the truck in one sweeping motion. Then he would swing the empty bin back to the curb with one hand in a graceful arc powered by gravity. The truck was about halfway through the Canyon Echo route when it paused before a bin that somehow looked different from the rest.

Something arresting about the contents of this bin caught Hank's eye. Atop the materials on their way to recycling was a white box. There was thick, black printing on the top that spelled out Crash or Trash or... No it was "Flash". The lid was secured by a band of Scotch tape to keep the contents from spilling.

Hank was a reader, not a writer. Still, intuition told him this was not the usual profusion of newspapers and direct mail advertising. Not just waste paper, but possibly a typescript of some kind of book. The notion piqued his interest. He had never before seen a book in manuscript form.

Before he bent to sweep the contents of the bin into the hold of the truck, he extracted the white box and wedged it into a niche beside his perch on the platform. Official policy of his waste management firm, Green Trash Disposal, Inc., forbade any salvaging of materials by employees. In practice, however, some inspection and recovery by the workers was commonplace, tacitly overlooked by both drivers and supervisors. Whatever attracted interest in a binful was likely to get looked at, however cursorily.

With the box's lid held fast by the tape, the wind stream was not likely to tear off the top, spilling loose sheets onto the roadway. Such an accident would highlight this otherwise low profile infraction of the salvage rules. Embarrassing. Hank planned to retain the box for a leisurely inspection at home, after work hours.


On his way home from Green's yard that Wednesday, Hank swung his beat-up Ford Ranger under the tin roof carport afforded by his cracker-box, two story apartment so common to the Tucson area. The parking space was open on all sides and contained zilch in the way of personal storage or amenities. The shelter was better than parking in the open sun--but not much.

Today wasn't bad, though, Early May was the best part of the year. By mid-June, Tucson would be in full bake mode. Hank tried to remember to savor every day of temperate May in the Sonora Desert. Air conditioning would come on--and stay on--soon enough.

He picked up the purloined box, still sealed by tape, and took it up the wrought-iron staircase to the balcony. At B207, he dug a key from his jeans and opened up. Still not hot enough for the a/c, he noticed. He left the front door open for ventilation, then dropped the box on the end table beside his chair. He headed toward the fridge, took out a Bud Light and popped the tab. He would enjoy a cold beer before taking his daily, after-work shower.

Hank settled into his recliner and opened the tape seal with his penknife. He was right; this was a manuscript. He extracted a thick stack of paper printed on only one side, tossed the box to the floor and put the typescript into his lap.

He took his first sip of icy beer as he noted the first page of the stack. It read:



Winslow Pepper

The return address at the top left corner was a familiar one he recognized from Canyon Echo. There was also a phone number and an email address.

Interesting, Hank thought. He did not recognize at once the name of the author, Winslow Pepper. Yet the name resonated in his memory. Nothing unusual. Pepper was likely the successful author of several books, and Hank, an habitual reader, had noticed the name before. Maybe even read some of his work.

Funny he had never seen a man at that unit in Canyon Echo. At most he might have spotted a woman, possibly home from work sick, one day as he made his rounds. Nice-looking lady. About the same age as his wife, Ginny, who was due home soon.

Hank set aside the title page and turned to the second. It started about half-way down the page and was headed:


Hank started to read.

Hey, this is good shit, Hank told Ginny as she walked into the room, trailing a cloud of aromatic oil scent from her massage table. She worked at a near-by parlor called Rubber Duck.

Hank still liked the looks of her: tall, full-figured, squarish face crowned with coppery hair. She had a smile that promised wonderful days ahead. Hank had fallen for her way back in high school. Though his feelings for her had changed over time and all that had happened during their marriage, they had not diminished.

What's that? Something you fished out of the trash? Hank, you shouldn't.

Hand me another beer, will you, hon?

Will you let me get changed first? I smell like a French whorehouse.

I'm the one who smells. Like a New York landfill. I'll get a shower in a minute. Then, Hey, I think I actually know this guy.

Ginny was already in the bedroom. Who?

The guy who wrote this.

Ginny came back to the living room in shorts and T-shirt. She opened the fridge and popped a beer for Hank. She bent over his shoulder to see what he was reading. Lot of words.

It's a novel, Gin. In manuscript form, the way you submit it to a publisher.

Ginny snorted. Looks like he submitted it to the trash can.

Hank scratched his crew-cut head, then looked out the window at the fan palm thrashing about in the afternoon breeze. Maybe it was a mistake. Maybe the box wound up in the trash by accident, He turned back to the novel. I can't believe I actually know this guy who wrote it. He lives on my route.

What's his name. Maybe I've heard of him. Or his wife. She could be a client.

Pepper. Winslow Pepper. I don't know his wife's name.

Doesn't tinkle my chimes. Where do you think you met him?

Remember when I started college that Fall? About '03?. Then had to drop out next Spring when you got pregnant?.

A shadow crossed Ginny's tanned face. Her tone changed. Yeah. So?

Well he was teaching one of my classes. English Lit.

Hank looked down at his lap, then hefted the thick typescript aloft. This must be an attempt to get his own work into print.

But he winds up tossing it in the trash. Or maybe his wife did it. He likely neglected her a lot.

Hank returned the stack of paper to his lap. I can't believe a guy would just deep six the result of so much work.

Maybe he got fed up. You know, with rejection. Some people can't handle rejection. That box looks like it's been around the block a few times. Around the world is more like it.

It was Ginny's turn to gaze at the thrashing palm outside. After a few moments she turned back to Hank and asked, What are you going to do about it?

Hank gazed back at her, his head tilted. Do about it? Nothing. So far as Pepper knows, his novel is in the pulp vat, looking very much like a giant bowl of oatmeal.

Ginny reached down and squeezed his shoulder. Her voice lowered as she said, Hank, you've got his phone number. And address. Right there on the first page.


Call him up. Give him a break. Maybe it was unintentional.

Hank scowled. He really wanted no contact with Pepper. He felt ashamed about dropping out of his college class. No way. Trash is trash. And, officially, I am really not supposed to be salvaging anything. I don't want Pepper to know that I did. I don't want him to know that his former student is now a working trash head.

Ginny shrugged, headed for the kitchen, poured herself a glass of Carlo Rossi. So you're not going to do a thing, she said.

Oh, yes, I am. I am going to finish reading this. It's good.

Silence from the kitchen.

Then we'll decide what to do with it.

Chapter 3

On Thursday, the day following the recycling pickup, Pep had two classes: one at 11 a.m. and another at 3 p.m. The morning class, Introduction to English Literature 101A, dealt with novelists: Hardy to Joyce. Part B was devoted to poetry: Donne to Eliot. Pep had the stuff down cold and needed no preparation. All he had to do was find his notes and place a marker in the textbook and walk into class on time.

That afternoon was Eliot. Pep was dealing with The Waste Land, specifically the line about the cruelty of April. Inwardly, he was reflecting that May wasn't going so well, either.

Suzy Bishop, in the front row, was flashing the red crotch of her panties again. He should be flattered, Pep reflected, but he wasn't. He had followed that trail before, and it had led to disaster. He got out of the affair, the teen student got her grade boosted, and Mandy never found out. Pep had been lucky; he decided after that, never again!

Driving home on the surface streets of Tucson, Pep noted the heat was intensifying day by day. Soon he would have to roll up the windows and turn on the a/c. Summer would take control with no relief save the occasional monsoon thunderstorms that started in July.

He turned into Canyon Echo, driving down the entry road, flanked by Afghan pines, past three intersections to his street. Here he turned left while pressing the bar of the garage-door opener. A giant, ancient saguaro in his gravel-covered yard, welcomed him home with a stately wave.

It was 4:35. Mandy wasn't expected home for another hour. What to do? This was the time he usually toiled over Flash until Mandy got home, when they watched the cable news together. The surge of relief of yesterday had evaporated overnight. Today he had been filled with a disturbing mood of uncertainty. What was he to do now with odd bits of time, now that Flash was gone forever. Start another novel?

Maybe he should turn to journalism. Tucson was filled with health-obsessed old geezers (and geezettes). Medicine was the main industry here. How about a medical column for the local newspaper? Something like, What Your Proctologist Won't Tell You? Or he could take up a hobby that would get him outside and into some useful exercise. Like buy a GPS and take up geocaching.

Pep had dressed for a department meeting that morning, and he still wore a suit and tie. Feeling unaccustomed to the heat of business wear, he went into the bedroom to change into the Southern Arizona summer uniform: T-shirt, shorts and sandals. And a baseball cap was worn outside to avoid scalp burn.

Pepper was tall and skinny, with a long thin nose that gave him a vaguely patrician air. His thick shock of dark-brown hair and piercing gray eyes reinforced the aristocratic image. His precise, clipped way of speaking he must have picked up in New England, where he went to school. He was unaware, however, of the upper-class image he projected. He considered himself a regular Joe.

In a strange way, he was almost missing the daily toil over the manuscript of Flash. That everyday chore at least served to fill that blank part of the day. He never had to worry about what to do till Mandy got home. He dealt with correspondence from publishers and agents; he opened the incoming manuscript box or shipped out a newly revised version. Mostly he had spent hours going over the text doing a fine-tooth kind of editing, hoping to make a change that would make the work magically saleable.

He got out two wineglasses for Mandy's homecoming, then cheated by pouring a couple ounces of red into one of them, which he took to his recliner, troubled now by a new concern. Was it too late to rescue the manuscript? Save it from immersion into the rendering vat--or whatever process they used to reduce paper to pulp?

He imagined making a call to the waste management center with his pathetic request. I dropped my manuscript into the recycling bin by accident...

And the bored manager's reply, Any item consigned to the trash is gone forever. The decision to toss is irrevocable.

Pep was close to pleading. Maybe my box is still in process, just sitting around somewhere waiting to be shredded, rendered or acid-bathed. Can't you at least check?

You can fill out form 1462 if you like. But I can tell you, sir, you don't have a chance in Hell. Once trashed is forever trashed. That's the reality of waste management today.

Or Pep might try to find the guy riding the recycling truck that day, last Wednesday. Trace him down and ask him if he had noticed the white box as he heaved the contents of the bin into the bay of the truck. And what? Ask this guy if he had removed the box? Accusing him of stealing Pep's work? Or was salvage from the trash technically stealing?

This was not the way to go. If the guy, in his mind named something like Herm, had actually withdrawn Flash from the trash, Pep would be in the position of having to buy back his own work. How ridiculous was that?

Mandy was right, he mused, as he heard the garage door shuddering open. He should have burned the papers or shredded them. That would eliminate any possibility of second thoughts. Who knows what went on in the recycling process? It was possible some things escaped destruction. He should have watched his manuscript burn. That was the only way to be sure.

He got up to pour Mandy's glass of wine.


Mandy came into the living room from the garage. She, too, was tall and thin in her businesslike pants suit. She and Pepper might have been siblings rather than spouses. Mandy had the brown hair and gray eyes and the same vaguely patrician air as her husband. They had met at college in New England, and married just before graduation. With this striking similarity, they might have been paired by some infallible dating service.

Mandy noticed that her husband was not following the news broadcast on TV. What's bugging you, Pep? The manuscript? Do you want it back now?

I sure do.

See? You should have waited a day or two before hurling it. You can be so impulsive.

No. I haven't changed my mind about it.

Then why would you want it back.

I want to make sure it's totally and forever gone. Forget all that green crap. Instead of doing my civic duty, I should have burned that sucker myself. That's the only way to be sure.

Too late now. Nothing to be done. Chances are 99.9 percent that your manuscript is a pile of goo by now.

Pep drained his glass and went to the kitchen for a refill. I hope you're right.

But Pep couldn't let go of his uncertainty. He did not call the waste management company, either. Instead he soldiered through the days until the next Wednesday pickup day arrived. He was prepared to show up late or miss entirely his 11 a.m. class while he waited on the front porch for the truck to come by. A new week's binful of trash perched at the curb awaiting pickup.

The recycling truck was smaller than the garbage truck, which came on Mondays and Fridays. The smaller vehicle was painted white. It was much quieter than the big truck, which grunted and shuddered enough to shake the windows as it passed by. When the recycler turned the corner and paused at Pep's driveway, Pep was standing beside his recycling bin to hail it.

The recycling guy was short and muscular, wearing only hard hat, denim jeans and A-shirt. His face was deeply tanned from exposure to Arizona sun. He looked surprised and uneasy to see Pep waiting for him. The guy driving the truck looked back over his shoulder, then paused to allow the two men a moment to speak.

Hank swung the bin up to the hold

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