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Books and Authors: The Counterfeit Author

June 12, 1990

NEW YORK (AP) _ Open the wallet of Louis B. Jones and you’ll find a California driver’s license, a slip of yellow paper, scribbled messages and a counterfeit $20 bill.

The bill is printed on typing paper, stained by tea. It’s dated 1985 and has the signature of then Secretary of the Treasury James A. Baker III on the lower right-hand side. You can tell it’s fake by scratching it against a hard surface and watching the ink run off. Also, the green is much paler than real currency.

No, Jones is not a crook, and he’s not playing a board game. Jones is a writer. The fake bill was part of research for his first novel, ″Ordinary Money″ ($18.95, Viking), in which the author imagines the serious conseqences of a little funny money.

″A catalyst was Andre Gide’s novel, ’The Counterfeiters,‴ said the author, a native of Chicago who now lives in Mill Valley, Calif.

″It’s about a bunch of children, one of whom runs away from home. Gide seems to think money is the devil. It’s about modern, sensible people who don’t think the devil exists even though it passes through his fingers every day.″

″Ordinary Money″ is a morality play complete with fake limbs, real love, near adultery and ever present federal agents. The real, the unreal and the surreal mix like coins in a piggy bank.

Wayne Paschke is trying to be sensible, but it’s not easy. He knows about bills, real bills, the kind that arrive at the first of the month. A resident of California’s Marin County, Wayne’s has a wife, a teen-age daughter, another kid on the way and a less-than-promising career painting houses. He’s willing to take some chances to make money, even try something a little silly, like selling coins over the telephone.

In this practical man’s garage sits a wooden crate crammed with $20 bills, printed on paper so authentic that even the Feds think it’s real. It’s a gift from his best friend Randy Potts, ″a government unto himself″ looking to get rich with the speed of his ill-gotten red Ferrari.

The author makes a cameo appearance. Randy has received the money from his boss, a mysterious man who meets with him in parking lots of fast-food restaurants and offers instructions on how to pass the bucks.

Jones named the boss ″Auctor.″

‴The Latin name for author is auctor,″ Jones explained. ″The fact that we’re both in the business of inventing images was very much on my mind. When I go in a bookstore and see my book next to Thomas Pynchon’s, I feel like a counterfeiter.″

Like Wayne, Jones has stumbled a few times himself, writing several unpublished novels, heading for New York to become an author and leaving ″scared, defeated, brokenhearted about my possibilities.″

In ″Ordinary Money,″ Jones writes:

″The old Wayne Paschke would have found Marketrend ridiculous. But exactly when things seemed most absurd, that was the moment when the successful man plunges forward without admitting the possibility of defeat, almost irrationally.″

Jones admits he’s also taken some awkward plunges.

″When I was 17 or 18, I got involved with something called ‘Bestline,’ which is something like Amway. Bestline is soap. You studied this book about self-esteem, and go to these meeting and stir a lot of enthusiasm.

″What you’re competing for is the Cadillac, a bonus Cadillac. If you get enough points you get a pink Cadillac. I really kind of believed it for two months, like Wayne. It was a happy mistake. I learned by becoming someone else, living with different values. It was a kind of schizophrenic experience.″

Research for ″Ordinary Money″ began in 1985 when Jones set up various bleaches on his kitchen counter, printed specimens on typing paper and trimmed them with a paper cutter.

Two years later, he took another plunge. Jones headed for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington, enduring the occasional eviction by angry security guards as he sought official advice on how to break the bank.

On paper, at least, Jones succeeds, writing of computer-driven lasers, argon lasers and flying spot scanners, making the process of counterfeiting seem as simple as selling detergent.

In real life, however, the author reports that he can do no better than invent the perfect crime.

″It’s unhappy. I hate to be the man who says there’s no Mary Poppins,″ said Jones, holding a real bill in his hands. ″But the perfect counterfeit bill is not yet a technological possibility. It almost is.″

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