Two Stiffs in Search of a Grave


“What is the saying,” said Rodt in his thick accent, “The grave is half full?”

“Wrong,” said Smartt.

Rodt sounded ignorant and unclean, as if he had a mouthful of pickled herring. Everything that came out of it stank, thought Smartt. It didn’t matter what the guy said, it all sounded like he was a dipshit tourist who threw a fuck in every once in a while, thinking it made him belong. It was the first word foreigners learned. The impression Rodt made confirmed Smartt’s belief that there was no Listerine in Holland, and when he spoke, people ducked.    

“The glass,” said Smartt, “The glass is half full.”

It bothered him that Rodt tried to fit in and never got it right. He wore a Baltimore Colts jersey and listened to doo-wop. He ate the pig knuckles and pickled eggs at dive bars. Nobody ate that shit, and the Colts had left town long ago.

Rodt tossed a shovelful onto the soft mound and stomped on it. He did that pretty good, Smartt thought. Rodt sank to his ankles and stepped out, shaking the dirt from his sneakers.

“Okay, the glass. But the grave. I dance on it. Here lays Eddie Swort and the money returns to our pockets, yes?”

Rodt jammed the shovel into the turned dirt like an old hand in a potter’s field and took a step back to admire what he’d done. Maybe, thought Jimmy Smartt, there was some reason to celebrate. He and Rodt had caught Swort with their money. Smartt put him down as quick as a bullet. Rodt watched and took notes.

“Burying the dead. One of the oldest chores,” said Rodt.

“Second only to killing somebody,” said Smartt.

Rodt laughed.

“Without one there cannot be the other,” he said.

Smartt had no use for Rodt’s simple Olde World wisdom and his plain Dutch face. Rodt could blend in anywhere. You could’ve stuck it in any number of Rembrandts and nobody’d see him. A double cross, a murder, a graveside service, the Louvre, you name it, anywhere he showed up he’d invisible, but not to Smartt.  

“You’re an optimist,” said Rodt.

“I’m not,” said Smartt.

 “Sure,” said Rodt. “Sunny sky. No rain. Money back in our pockets.”

“The glass is half empty, said Smartt, “Cloudy skies and rain. Like Amsterdam. There’s only eighteen grand in my pocket.”

Stealing, that was an old one too. Rodt paused as if going over the math but Smartt knew it wasn’t numbers he was thinking of. Rodt gripped the wooden handle of the shovel.

“The glass is half empty for you because you always need more. Too much coke and whores, Jimmy. Put the money where no one can find it. Not even you.”

Rodt laughed at his joke.

“Thought I had,” said Smartt.  “But somebody got to it.”

“Him,” said Rodt, stabbing the shovel into the grave.

 “You sure?” said Smartt. “He took three grand from me. Then somebody grabbed another two.”

“Three grand? From me he took five. From you he took five as well. I counted it myself. You get careless. You need a wife. One that can count.”

Smartt saw the lie.

“I got a wife,” said Smartt. “And I can count.”

  Rodt released the shovel. It leaned to Smartt and he grabbed the handle and drove it into the grave. He set it in deep with his foot.

“Then go home and talk to her,” said Rodt. “Maybe she took it.”

Smartt turned the earth and set the shovel again.

“Think positive like me,” said Rodt. “Remember, the grave is half full. I mean the glass.”

He quieted at once with a trembling repose that seemed ready to make him come apart.

“I have a question,” said Smartt. “If the grave’s half full, who’s going to fill the rest of it?”

Rodt reached for the pocket where he kept a pistol. Smartt swung the shovel for the fences and connected with Rodt’s head.

“I am a pessimist,” said Smartt. The dirt was loose and dug up easily. “This grave is half empty.”

~ fin ~

Steven Nester is a freelance writer and host of Poets of the Tabloid Murder. You can read him at website or listen to him at Public Radio Exchange. He lives in New York City.