In between other scams, washed-up former college athlete Earl Beale is cooking up a blackmail scheme with his prostitute girlfriend, but things don't turn out quite like he had hoped. Earl starts with a job he has to do because he owes a politician a favor, and the politician owes someone else, so he sends Earl. All he has to do is steal a blue Mercedes that's been used by a judge cheating on his wife at a cheap hotel and get rid of it.
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Instead, Earl decides to keep the car and dump it on his brother Don, who owns a car dealership in Vermont. The idea is that they would forge new ownership papers and split the profits when they sell. Don doesn't like it, but Earl's his brother, so he goes ahead with it.
Meanwhile, Earl is setting up the real scam: blackmailing Allen, a rich businessman who's been having an affair with Earl's hooker girlfriend, Penny. It's been almost a year and Earl has photos of Penny with Allen, and he wants to put the screws to him for a million bucks. Penny doesn't like it, because Allen pays her $10,000 every time they go away for a weekend, and why ruin a good thing?
While he's waiting for Penny to get back from Thanksgiving with her family, Earl -- who works in used car sales as his legitimate job -- scams a couple of buyers when he's the only salesman on the lot. He takes a trade-in for one sale, then sells the trade-in to a young woman without enough money for the car she really wants. Then he forges the sales documents to list a lower price on each and pockets the difference in cash.
Fed up with Penny's resistance, Earl sets up the blackmail on his own, but Allen's not going for it. His wife already knows about his affairs, so instead of the million Earl wants, Allen offers him $25,000 for all the photos and negatives. Earl refuses and it looks like Allen is about to get busted.
Except that Penny double-crosses Earl. She gets the photos and negatives and offers them to Allen for the same price. It turns out she never really liked Earl all that much in the first place, and she's upset that he ruined her sugar daddy relationship with Allen (though she didn't like him very much, either). Allen pays her and Earl gets arrested.
In the end, Earl is in jail while his brother Don is visited by investigators asking about the blue Mercedes. It had been in an accident, and its papers were questionable when the insurance company checked on the car. The man who bought it was driving his girlfriend in it -- not his wife -- when the accident occurred, continuing the cycle of con games and infidelity.
Best part of story, including ending:
This story is hard to follow at first, because of all the twists, and because the narrative doesn't pace you through one after another. The reader has to stay on his or her feet, keeping track of who is scamming whom and why. But in the end, that makes the read worthwhile, because it's a clever balancing act that all comes together well.
Best scene in story:
When Penny sells the photographs to Allen, she reveals that she's been scamming Earl all along, and both he and the reader had no idea. Perhaps we had written her off as incapable or just dumb because she's a hooker, but it turns out that she is the one who was waiting for the right opportunity to jump in, make herself some money, and get rid of a couple of men hanging around her that she's grown tired of.
Opinion about the main character:
Earl is good at running small scams, but he's not thoughtful enough to pull off the big ones. He's proud of himself for selling a car his boss wanted gone, and for getting a good deal on the trade-in, and then for skimming the profit to himself. But that's only $500 or so. When the big payday comes along, he completely miscalculates and winds up back in jail.