Vern Emery sounds to me like the kind of man who might drive a pocket Audi sports car. He’s cut and pressed in clean lines and he sits three inches from the back of your car on the freeway. He’s out tonight with Elinor Naquin, who likes him despite, or is it because of, an arrogant streak that gets him service in restaurants but often reduces those around him to ciphers in his own plan.

He shares a secret with three other people

Elinor Naquin is no cipher. She’s a year into graduate school, and she’s doing it for herself. She has a magical ability to combine and accessorize. She performs a kind of alchemy upon items she rescues from bargain bins and second hand stores. Half Irish, half Moroccan she had green eyes and a coffee complexion envied by most of her friends, white and black. She works three jobs, the most interesting of which could get her thrown out of school, and possibly arrested.

She hasn’t told Vern about her on/off relationship with Clark Wagner, who would deny the off part of that description if asked. Clark is a software engineer, with a comic book habit that he just can’t break. He’s 28, drives a ten year old Honda Civic, and has been tailgaited by Vern three and half times on the 101 (he slows down without braking). He still can’t believe his luck in having Elinor as a girlfriend. He doesn’t yet know that his luck is about to run out. Clark owes money to Garry Finley for a recent experiment in drug dealing that went went the way of most of Clark’s schemes. Very badly. He needs 10,000 dollars fast, or Garry… well Garry won’t do anything much himself. But he knows people who will mess someone up to get back the money which wasn’t strictly his. That someone won’t be Garry.

You see Garry Finley is really an edge player. He’s a pick up truck, cap on backwards, kind of guy. He likes baseball, and coolers full of beer at the beach. He calls people dude without sounding affected. He drives with one hand on the wheel. When he tailgates, he doesn’t weave and chivvy like Vern. He throttles back and then drives his truck at you, as if he’s ready to ram you off the road. He thinks you’re a motherfucker. He’s been dealing for five years, and he’s dimly aware that things are going to go to shit real soon now.

So what’s this secret? Remember that? Well first off, I’d better confess that this set up – which has a real crime story vibe to it – might be a stretch for me. As a Brit living in California, I doubt I could carry off these characters. Though I’d like to torture both Vern and Garry. And I could maybe change Clark Wagner to Charles Wainscott and make him English. Opportunities there for some fish out of water comedy. Anyway. I digress.

The secret thread that joins these characters is their origin. They’re spam.

I get a lot of spam. My bulk folder bulges with penis enlargement, replica watch and Viagra mail. I’ll be honest. I hate it. I loathe the contempt these gangsters have for people, their blanket assumption that the world is full of marks. I hate their semi-literate language. Just reading the subject lines – especially those that pop up again and again—makes me slightly queasy. I mean, really, I get a physical reaction to this stuff.

They do provide one service however. When they send out mail, they use names and addresses they’ve stolen from the internet. These are real names from all over the world. So here are my sources for the character games I’ve just played:
Clark Gaines: Super Staying Power
Joanne Wagner: With a bigger tool you can break not only hearts but also…
Elinor Henson: Look slim and hot thanks to Acai Elite.
Hollie Mckee: Re:
Sonny Spangler: Enlarging your machine is the best way to get your ex back.
Garry Naquin: Every macho should have a cool watch.
Gail Finley: Eliminate rod’s flaccidity

Recognize any of those subject lines? Aren’t they terrible? I’ve even edited one because it’s so fundamentally nasty. But those names are fantastic. Of course, there’s a good chance that they belong to real people, so I take care to switch around first and last names.

There’s not much in the world that can’t be exploited for character or story. Still, I was surprised to find inspiration even in the banality that spammers force into my mailbox every day.