Grampa Don hated houseflies.
To hear him talk you’d think there weren’t no flies in Chicago, but we visited once and there were flies a’plenty, I assure you. But when Grampa stayed with us he was forever complaining about flies in the house. Said they bothered him worse than even Bobby Junior forever trying to crawl up in his lap. Grampa Don didn’t like us kids but he hated flies worse and I guess that’s why he put the bounty out.
Mom said Grampa was loaded, which me and Roy took to understanding that he had a shotgun shell stuck up his butt. We figured it the reason for his foul mood mostly all the time. Cristina-Know-It-All, with her fancy high school learning, explained it meant he was full of money. Me and Roy didn’t like Grampa Don and neither did Daddy but Mom kept inviting him to visit. She spent a fair bit of porch time with him smokin’ and tellin’ stories. Grampa even paid to screen the porch in so he wouldn’t have to put up with flies while he was tellin’ Mom about his new LaSalle and how she could have one same if she’d move to Chicago.
“With the family,” he’d sometimes add.
Anyway, Grampa had money so he could afford the fly bounty. One cent for every fly we killed. Ain’t no fly in this world worth a plug nickel let alone a penny, but we weren’t going to tell Grampa that. Cristina-Know-It-All said she wasn’t touchin’ no smashed up dead flies. Bobby Junior couldn’t swing no better than Red Barnes was doin’ for the Nats that year, so me and Roy rolled us up a couple of pages from the Daily Advance and went to work.
By afternoon we’d collected 31 dead flies in the bottom of a mason jar. I’ll be durned if Grampa didn’t pick through and sort out nine he said he wasn’t paying for because they were either ants or too dried out to be fresh killed. In truth, we got five flies from spider webs around the house and the others were ants, but I was still sore at losing out that money. I didn’t know why nine cents made such a big difference to someone loaded like Grampa but Cristina-Know-It-All said he didn’t get rich from paying for substandard work. She hated living on the farm and was great for tellin’ us what to do but she was a dewdropper herself who wouldn’t tote a pail to the well if she was dying of thirst.
Twenty-two cents wasn’t as good as thirty-one, but it was a sight better than zero, which is what we started the day off with. Still, it left us the problem of how to spend it. We both wanted to see The Virginian but tickets were 15 cents and that wasn’t even including popcorn. We were by the chicken coop debating what to do by the when Cristina-Know-It-All happened upon us.
“You two are saps,” she said. “Don’t know nothin’ about investments.”
“Investamints? That some candy?” asked Roy. He’d been angling to spend his share at the five and dime on sweets.
“No, goof. Learned it in Home Ec. It’s how you use money to make money.”
“Go chase yourself,” I told her. “You gotta work to make money.”
“Less you gamble,” said Roy. “Gamblin’ ain’t work.”
“Ain’t talking about gambling,” said Cristina. “Talking about turning that twenty-two cents into twenty bucks. If I had that kind of money, I’d be out of here like a cat up a tree.”
“Twenty bucks! Go on.” I stepped up to her face. “You’re a lie.”
“I am not a lie.” She shoved me and I nearly tumbled over backwards. I didn’t care if she was a girl and bigger than me, I was going to pop her one in the eye but Roy stopped me.
“Hold on there a sec. Let’s give this a thought.” He was definitely the cooler head between us. “How would this work, exactly?”
Cristina held out a hand. “You give me that twenty-two cent. If I don’t turn it into twenty bucks I’ll do your chores for a week. If I do, you give me half.”
“Ha!” I said. “Be worth twenty cent just to see you work a lick.”
Roy agreed and we shook. We each handed her our eleven cents.
“Now,” she said. “Go get me a couple of mason jars.”
Grampa Don and Mom were drinking coffee on the porch the next morning when we plunked down two jars filled with dead flies. Grampa’s cigarette dangled from his open mouth for a few seconds before falling to the floor.
“There’s 2,132 flies in there,” I said.
“We took out all the ants, bees and other bugs that you don’t pay for,” Roy said. “But you’re welcome to count for yourself.”
Daddy was standing behind us with his arms folded trying not to laugh.
“I expect there ain’t a fly alive in all Currituck County, Don,” he said.
Turns out Cristina-Know-It-All was a spot more clever than we’d give her credit for. She took our twenty-two cents and put out her own bounty to any kid within five miles of our farm. She offered a penny for every hundred flies anyone bought her, which, everyone knowing a fly weren’t worth a plug nickel, still seemed like a crazy offer.
To his credit, Grampa Don paid us, but he took that bounty off right after. Went and bought himself a proper fly swatter which took care of the flies pestering him and kept Bobby Junior off his lap. Me and Roy were the richest kids in Grandy for a good spell and got to see every feature that came out for the entire next year.
Cristina-Know-It-All, true to her word, got herself a bus ticket out of town. She writes every once in awhile from New York City. Says she’s doing alright.
I tend to believe her.
J.C. Towler never entered a spelling bee due to anaphylaxis. He lives on the Outer Banks of North Carolina enjoying life at the beach while it lasts.