A few weeks ago the London Book Festival announced the names of its winners. “Stan Lerner’s Criminal”, the novel, which is probably my most recognized work, received the First Honorable Mention.
As I stared at the screen of my computer my heart sank—I had in my mind contemplated nothing less than being named the Grand Prize Winner. A year earlier “Stan Lerner’s Criminal” had won the Grand Prize at the Hollywood Book Festival and set the standard for my expectations. To complicate matters, as a blogger I felt compelled to announce the results even though they were not to my liking and I knew in doing so it would also be incumbent on me to congratulate the winner (Stan Goldberg for “Lessons For The Living”), which didn’t bother me at all—I’m happy for Stan Goldberg, it’s an incredible feeling to win. So I began by posting the results to my status on facebook and to my surprise friends from all over the world began to congratulate me for my honorable mention. This gave me pause…I decided to delay writing a blog…I realized the matter required more thought than I had been able to give to it.
Now that time has passed, and with some help from my friends, I feel good about being honored with an honorable mention. My nature, of course, demands that my future work be so extraordinary that to be anything other than a Grand Prize Winner—impossible! And yes, I say this somewhat in jest. But also during these few weeks of reflection the whole journey, that is “Stan Lerner’s Criminal”, meandered through my mind. Although the story of “Criminal” could be a literary work unto itself I’d like to take a few moments to share some of my thoughts with you about this road less traveled.
I should start by saying that the act of writing a novel is a sure sign of insanity. And there were plenty of people, including friends and family, who believed that I had indeed lost what little touch I did have with reality.
I gave “Stan Lerner’s Criminal” my own name as part of its title because I have been dismayed over the years by people who claim to have done work attributed to others. I put my name and face on all of my work, and document the creative process, not as a matter of ego, but out of necessity to insure that there is not doubt as to the integrity of my work.
“Stan Lerner’s Criminal” was an intensely personal endeavor that took four years to write. A not so well known fact is that I originally wrote “Criminal” in the voice of the first person. This version of “Criminal” took two years to write, at the conclusion of which I had written a book that was too disturbing for anyone to read. It took two more years to rewrite “Criminal” into the book that was published—utilizing the traditional voice of a novel.
Lerner Wordsmith Press (my company) published “Stan Lerner’s Criminal” not because I wanted to be the publisher, but rather I was reasonably sure that no other publisher would publish a book like “Criminal”. And by “a book like ‘Criminal’” I mean a serious literary work that did not pander to either social and or political correctness.
Subsequent to “Stan Lerner’s Criminal” receiving superlative reviews and winning the Grand Prize at the Hollywood Book Festival both Barnes & Noble and Borders refused to put it in their respective stores. And because of this, no studios or production companies have tried to acquire the rights…Yet “Criminal” goes on, selling almost every book ever printed. Garnering international acclaim. And providing to me a seemingly infinite number of people who say that it is the best book they have ever read. A conundrum I suppose…
I joked in a recent blog that a book is a classic if everyone talks about it, but nobody has actually read it—not exactly the problem with “Criminal” but it would be disingenuous for me to say that I don’t want every person on earth, over the age of eighteen, to read this book. You see we live in a world filled with people that too often talk about one set of values and live by another…
“Criminal”, the product of years of hard, honest work, several times over earned the right to be sold in the major retailers, but was denied. Not because it wasn’t the best, but because it was! And because the best was written by a college dropout, convicted felon. And because the best didn’t come from the publishing establishment in New York. And because the best didn’t come with payoffs to the fiction buyers for shelf space it was anathematized (exiled). Well almost, but because of a little thing called the Internet—“Criminal” wouldn’t be and will continue not to be denied.
I tell you this from the bottom of my heart, every award that “Criminal” garners and every new reader that turns its pages does more than soothe my fractured soul, it rights a wrong and says no to the mediocre individuals who wallow in their sty’s of corporate corruption. Most of us grew up being told that being honest and working hard was the formula for success. Working hard, being honest, and being the BEST at what you do was more than the formula for success—it was the ticket to the Promise Land. Can you imagine finally finding the character in one’s self to adapt to this way of thinking—only to find such honorable beliefs had been discarded to the trash heap of noble thought?
I try to ask little of the world and less from people. But I’m asking everyone who reads this blog to take a few minutes to read the introduction and first two chapters of “Stan Lerner’s Criminal” that follow. And if you like what you’ve read, please buy this book by clicking either the link to Amazon.com, where the book is available in hardcover and for Kindle ebook readers. Or below the Amazon.com link, click on the link to Smashwords.com, a truly exciting new company that makes “Stan Lerner’s Criminal” available in every ebook format known to mankind—including the formats for Sony eReader and Barnes & Noble Nook. And friends, even if “Stan Lerner’s Criminal” is not meant for your bookshelf, please pass this blog along. Thank you for the love and support! Now read on and enjoy the book that a lot of the people, who run the show, don’t want you to read.
STAN LERNER’S CRIMINAL
By Stan Lerner
HOLLYWOOD BOOK FESTIVAL GRAND PRIZE WINNER
Lerner Wordsmith Press
As formatted for Smashwords
Copyright 2005 Stanley R. Lerner. All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form without permission.
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, incidents, and dialogue, except for the incidental references to public figures, institutions, agencies, products, places services, or companies, are imaginary and are not intended to refer to any living person or disparage any company’s products or services.
STAN LERNER’S CRIMINAL
So begins the story of one man’s evil journey through life. A journey that gave birth to a crime organization that has never been truly understood by anyone until now. Some is fact. Some is fiction. It will be up to you to decide which is which—but even in lies there is truth.
Sam Noah is not famous like Al Capone, John Gotti or Pablo Escobar. But for reasons known only to Sam Noah and his closest associates, the government of the United States of America gave him the only sentence of its kind in the history of the American judicial system. Convinced he was no longer a menace to society, the judge presiding over his case ordered Sam Noah and law enforcement to part ways for good. And so it has been ever since. Or so it seems.
Sam Noah’s influence and ideas are everywhere. He lives a quiet and peaceful life now, his past seemingly forgotten by most. Yet the events of today are the result of his deeds long ago. Perhaps he feels some regret and sadness for what he has brought to the world. But isn’t evil just the opposite side of good? Sam Noah tossed the coin of fate, and let the world decide on which side it would land. Indeed, without the choice between good and evil, the world as we know it would not exist. It is important to understand that Sam Noah is not simply a criminal, but rather an artist. He creates within the realm of thought, seeing the potential in every moment and manipulating it in his own unique way.
There is great pain in the perpetration of evil, pain that is not felt until the time of reflection. In every life comes a time to reflect, a time to face the truth about one’s self. Make no mistake about it, Sam Noah knows of right and wrong, but when he looks into people’s hearts, he sees darkness. And darkness is indeed evil’s magnet. In the darkness is where you’ll find him.
The voice on the other end of the line was agitated, a caricature of an angry police chief from any procedural drama or B-movie—now on the phone.
“Is this Jim Carrington?” the voice demanded to know.
“Yes. Who’s this?” Jim asked, unable to place the voice. He looked around the bedroom for his wallet. He was already running late for the office—even without the unexpected call.
“Detective Metrano—Las Vegas Metro. I’ve got a homicide scene I think you should see.”
A local cop summoning an FBI agent to a crime scene was a first for Jim. “Detective, I go when and where the FBI tells me to. You know that. I suggest you go through the proper channels.”
“Fuck the proper channels!” Metrano’s voice almost cracked as his eyes did a one-eighty around the modern-day torture chamber. “Your name and number are written in blood on the wall, right here in front of me.” The horrible looking instruments were being photographed. He focused on the corpse with no arms and legs hanging from the meat hook. Genitals stuffed partially into his own mouth. “There’s a body, I’m guessing that’s where the blood came from. I’ve been working Vegas homicide for twenty years. I’ve seen everything. Fucking everything. Believe me, I’ve never seen anything like this. I suggest you go through whatever channels you need to and tell them you’re on your way to Vegas.”
“Is there anything else?” Jim asked, resigned to the horror he would soon be dealing with. Resigned that there was still much more to come.
“Yeah. There’s one more thing,” said Metrano. He was the kind of asshole who enjoyed watching an FBI mess unfold. “Someone left a manila envelope addressed to you.”
“Has anybody touched that envelope?” Jim asked already knowing what a prick like Metrano’s answer would be.
“We’re checking it for prints. But in Vegas we don’t read other people’s mail. No matter how interesting yours must be.”
The air was a mild 75-degrees and the sun had progressed to its late afternoon position in the sky. Sam Noah worked out at Gold’s Gym in Venice. He was young—only nineteen-years-old, with a clean-cut look that was reminiscent of another time. He wore his hair short and his green eyes, surrounded by more red than white, told the story of a weighty and angry soul. Calm surrounded by fire. One look into Sam Noah’s eyes left no doubt that he was always in control. One look at his powerful physique left no doubt he was very capable of asserting his will.
The wind blew through the palm trees. To the trained ear, it sounded like the angels might be crying. Gold’s Gym—and the freaks who worked out there—made Sam feel comfortably anonymous. There, he could work out not only with intensity, but with hatred. The energy poured from his body into the cold steel. With every inch that it moved he felt stronger. Sam had discovered the dark side long before he found Gold’s. But he never tired of the strength. He was fucking strong—and getting stronger every day.
Sam slammed 425 pounds back down on the narrow hooks of the well-worn bench-press and noticed a local musclehead, Greg Casserdly, making his way towards him. Greg’s world revolved around the gym. He wasn’t tall. But he was muscular in the way only heavy weights and steroids could make someone.
They usually worked out around the same time and often traded spots as they pushed their bodies for that one final rep. Men who lived Greg’s lifestyle, if they weren’t criminals or selling their ass, were usually impoverished. Greg was the latter.
Sam sensed Greg was looking for more than a spot before he even began to speak. People were always friendly when they needed something.
“Hey Sam, what are you doing after you’re done working out?”
“Not much. Probably going home to watch some TV. Wait for my girlfriend to come over. Why?”
The acne on Greg’s back was worse than Sam had ever seen it. He tried not to stare but couldn’t stop himself.
Disgusting. The side effect of roids. Steroids I’ll never have to take because I’m already stronger than everybody in this fucking gym.
“My car broke down and I don’t have a way to get to work. I was wondering…maybe you could give me a ride?” Greg explained, his face filled with a mixture of hope and angst.
Sam thought for a moment of all the people who had fallen upon hard times that his father had helped out. “Where do you need to go?”
Greg was hesitant. “Reseda.”
Sam immediately felt the anxiety of getting into a situation that he didn’t want to be in. “You work in the Valley? What the fuck are you doing working way out there?”
“I’m a bouncer at Jack Landis’s Country Club. Look man, I hate to ask you for this. But I need to work the hours just to get the money together to fix my car. Dude, you would be a lifesaver.”
Los Angeles was a large sprawling city with hellish traffic, especially if someone was trying to drive to the wrong place at the wrong time. Most Westsiders rarely ventured to the Valley. But plenty of Valley residents worked on the Westside. By 4:00 p.m. they packed the 405 freeway north trying to get home turning the Sepulveda pass into a parking lot. It was 3:51.
Sam wondered why the right thing to do and the easy thing to do never seemed to be the same. Soon he would be sitting on the 405 North in the worst fucking traffic imaginable.
“I’ll give you a lift. But remind me to call my girlfriend and tell her I’m going to be home late.”
“Thanks man. I really appreciate it,” Greg said giving him a pat on the shoulder, which, like most displays of affection made Sam recoil inside himself. “If you want, I’ll drive your car,” Greg offered as an afterthought.
“I bet you will,” Sam responded from his retracted state of humanity. “Sometime after hell freezes over.” He laughed. “Come to think of it, not even then.”
Greg smiled. “Can’t blame me for trying.”
“Sure I can.” Sam looked back down at the bench press. The blue paint was chipped and the black vinyl needed to be replaced again. Plenty of sweat from acne-covered backs like Greg’s soaked into that thing. “I’m gonna finish my workout. Throw another twenty-five on that side for me.”
The quarters slammed on each side.
“Do you want a spot?”
“I’m okay, just keep an eye on me.” Sam could feel eyes all over the gym on him. All those steroids and all they could do was watch and wonder. “Haaa, haaa, haaaa, haaa, haaaaa.” The bar was back on the hooks. A quarter of a ton; fuckin A, man. Fuckin A.
As soon as Sam pulled his beige 1976 Corvette Stingray into the parking lot behind the club, they were surrounded by five of Greg’s co-workers. Each wore a bright red security shirt and dark pants.
“Bro, I love this car,” the larger of two black bouncers said. He bent down in front of the hood and took in the lines for a second. “I’ve always wanted one of these. Man, you got to let me take it for a drive.”
A white bouncer with long dark brown hair and an earring that appeared to be a pair of scissors extended his hand. “Excuse his rudeness. I’m Frank. Why don’t you introduce everybody to your friend, Greg?”
“I was going to, but you guys pounced.” Greg sounded annoyed.
“When a guy our age drives into this neighborhood in a Corvette? Please!” Frank jousted.
Greg nodded towards the smaller black guy. “Sam, this is Melvin. He’s the boss.” Melvin was an intelligent-looking athletic type: he was the kid who knew the street—but had the intellect to rise up out of it.
“Nice to meet you,” Sam said, shaking Melvin’s hand.
Melvin smiled. “Don’t let these guys scare you off; they’re all right once you get to know them.” Melvin turned to Greg. “How do you guys know each other?”
“Sam works out at Gold’s in Venice. My car broke down and Sam was cool enough to give me a ride.”
Greg nodded towards a trailer-trash looking kid with stringy blond hair that looked like it hadn’t been washed in a week. “Adam, meet my friend Sam. Adam works the stage door. Mostly, he spends the night fighting off hot little groupies trying to get back to see the bands.”
“It’s a tough job, but I don’t mind doing it,” Adam said as he shook Sam’s hand.
“I’ll bet you don’t,” Sam said, smiling at the visual of little skanks willing to give up their virtue to skinny guys with long hair and drug habits.
“The big guy here who loves your car is Doug,” Greg continued.
“Big guy” was a good description Sam guessed, about six-five, two hundred and eighty pounds. Doug’s eyes gave away that he was a young man with a dream. Typical of someone that had moved from somewhere else.
“You can take it around the block if you want,” Sam offered.
Doug’s smile disappeared. “Bro, don’t even joke around like that.”
“I never joke,” Sam said as he handed him the keys, “just take it around the block and don’t crash it.”
Doug looked at the keys in his hand; he shook his head as the moment sunk in.
“You’re fucking kidding me?” Frank was beside himself. “You’re going to let him drive your Vette? Just like that?”
“Yeah, just like that,” Sam answered.
Go see what it’s like to be me for a while. Then we’ll talk, my friends. Then we’ll talk.
“You know I’m sitting shotgun,” said Frank both bewildered and amused at the same time.
“Knock yourself out. Just don’t let him fuck up my car.”
“I’ll protect this car with my life,” Doug said, already halfway into the drivers seat. “Let’s go,” he said, motioning to Frank.
Frank was sliding into the passenger’s seat—when the concerned looking Hispanic bouncer spoke for the first time. “Like he said, just take it around the block. I need you guys back here…”
Frank slammed the door before he could finish.
“We’re going to be short-handed tonight.” his voice trailed off as the car roared out of its parking space. He noticed the surprise on Sam’s face that he spoke with some authority. “I’m Steve. Believe it or not, I’m their supervisor,” he said, extending his hand.
Melvin put his hand on Steve’s shoulder. “Steve handles everything here at the club for me. I pop in and out to make sure things are going all right. But otherwise, Steve’s in charge.”
Sam nodded. “At least I know who to talk to if they won’t let me in.”
“I’ve got you covered,” Steve said clearly more impressed by Sam’s menacing build than his Corvette.
Sam got the feeling that Steve was a good guy. He was soft around the middle and his eyes looked fatigued. Sam figured he had to be married with young kids.
Steve looked at Greg and Adam and then at his watch. “You guys were on duty five minutes ago. Get to your spots.”
“Nice to meet you,” Adam offered with a parting nod.
“Likewise,” Sam responded.
Greg turned to Sam. “Thanks for the ride, man. I’ll work out getting home, unless you want to stick around and take in the show?”
“It’s a good show tonight,” Steve said—agreeing with Greg. “Why don’t you stick around?”
“I would—but I’m starving. And right now my fridge is packed with food.”
Melvin and Steve both smiled. Steve pointed to a little restaurant at the rear of the parking lot. “From 5:00 to 6:00, it’s all the dollar burgers you can eat.”
“No shit?” Sam said, feeling much hungrier than he had just seconds before.
“No shit.” Melvin grinned.
“Alright. Twist my arm,” Sam said, awkwardly turning his arm toward himself.
Steve pointed toward the club. “I’m gonna check on the guys, then come grab a bite myself.”
“I’ll save you a seat,” Sam offered, not feeling like he wanted to eat alone. “What about you, Melvin? Joining us?”
Melvin shook his head. “I wish I could. Next time.”
Sam started towards the restaurant. “Save a couple of seats for Frank and Doug. They’re always hungry and they’re not on until 6:00,” Steve shouted out after him.
Sam was surprised to find the restaurant empty. It should have been packed. “What’s the point of one-dollar burgers if you don’t tell anyone?” he asked himself as he read the “Please Wait To Be Seated” sign.
The young hostess in the white blouse and short black skirt seemed bored. “Sit anywhere you want,” she managed to say, almost collapsing from the strain of it all.
Sam had barely slid to the end of the booth when the same girl walked up and slammed down a brownish green plastic glass filled with water on the table hard enough for some of the water to slosh out. “What can I get you?”
“I’ll take ten burgers and a glass of water.” He looked down at the glass. “Ten burgers and a full glass of water.”
She actually smiled. “You’re kidding, right?”
“Do I look like the kind of person that kids?” The words came out with the threatening tone Sam had intended. The smile disappeared from her face. There was an awkward silence. Sam stared at her blankly. Without saying another word she turned around and walked back to the kitchen.
“Lazy bitch,” he said, almost loud enough for her to hear.
I bet you’re a good fuck though.
He imagined her naked bent over on her hands and knees, still wearing her waitress get up—only for the image to dissolve back into Greg making his way toward him. “I thought you’re supposed to be working?” Sam asked, surprised to see Greg sitting at his table.
Greg lifted the plastic glass of water out of its puddle and took a drink. “I am. Melvin sent me over here to see if you want to work the show tonight? I told him you’re about making real money. But I know you like to do off-the-wall shit sometimes. What do you think? You want to work?”
Eight bucks an hour isn’t much, but it’s more than you’ll make sitting home on your ass. What the fuck.
He nodded. “Tell Melvin I’ll do it.”
“I’ve never seen him offer someone a job on the fly.” Greg chugged the rest of Sam’s water and stood back up still crushing some ice-cubes in his mouth.
“It must be fate.”
Greg smiled. “It must be.”
As Greg walked out, Steve, Frank and Doug walked in. They had smiles on their faces as they sat down. Doug handed Sam his keys. “You know we’re brothers now. You and me are family.”
“Children of a mixed marriage no doubt,” Frank felt compelled to add.
Steve leaned forward. “So I hear you’re one of us now?”
“For tonight at least,” Sam answered.
“You’ll get hooked.” Steve’s words had the ring of insight. “I’m going to put you at the door with John. He’ll show you the ropes.”
“Let’s order. I’m fuckin starving,” Frank said abruptly.
They were looking hungrily at the waitress as she approached the table with two plates of burgers.
“You ordered already?” Frank asked, eyes wide.
Sam could barely concentrate as she put the food on the table. He thought he heard the waitress say something like, “Is this for all of you?”
“No!” all four shouted simultaneously.
“I’ll have the same,” Doug said without hesitation.
“Me too.” Frank had morphed into, a stomach with verbal skills.
“I don’t know how you guys can eat so much.” Steve looked up at the waitress. “Just give me five burgers and a chocolate shake.”
Sam noticed their eyes had drifted to his plate. “You can have some of mine until your food gets here. But I’m paying myself back when it does.”
They all reached for the plate. Like a school of piranha had just passed, his burgers were gone.
“Steve, how the fuck did you become a bouncer?” Sam asked.
Steve gave his stomach a pat. “What, because I don’t do sit-ups anymore? You try getting married and having three kids.”
“I didn’t mean it like that. I meant how did you wind up working here?”
“I sold Melvin a suit.”
“That makes sense. Was that just after Frank sold him a car?”
Steve laughed. “Just what we need. Another sarcastic bouncer. Frank isn’t enough to deal with.”
Frank’s head turned in Steve’s direction, eyes narrowed. “Fuck you! If you would just answer a simple fucking question, I wouldn’t be so fucking sarcastic.”
Steve ignored Frank. “I was a salesman at Suit Warehouse. But I couldn’t pay my bills. When Melvin offered me a job, I took it.”
“You’re saying that you make more money bouncing than selling suits?” Frank asked unsympathetically. “That’s got to be bullshit. I could give you a lesson on not being able to pay your bills.”
Steve shook his head. “No you couldn’t. Trust me, I used to boil ketchup in hot water to make tomato soup. I ate it three times a day with some saltines so my kids could eat whatever real food we could afford. That’s not being able to pay your bills.” Steve directed his attention back to Sam. “Anyway, I’ve got a roof over our heads and food on the table. I’m helping Melvin build something that could have a future.”
Steve seemed spent. So Sam turned to Doug.
“I know you’re not from around here?”
“Born and raised in Chicago.”
“Chicago’s a nice town. What brought you to L.A.?”
“I came to California to win a Mr. Olympia title.”
“You couldn’t do that in Chicago?”
“Bro, you’re from here. You work out at Gold’s. You know you have to be here. You gotta have the environment.”
“So you just packed up and came to L.A.?”
Doug shook his head. “Got married first, bought a car for fifty dollars, then came to L.A.”
“You’re my age, you can’t be married?”
“Don’t tell that to sis.”
“If we’re brothers, my wife is your sister, sis. It’s good to have a woman behind you. It keeps you straight.
Sam looked from Doug to Frank. “I’m guessing the long hair and blue streak have some kind of significance?”
“I’m a metal-head. If I wasn’t working the shows I’d be down in the pit, banging.”
“I like metal. Maybe I should grow hair down to my ass?” Sam’s lack of sincerity struck a chord with Frank.
“If you want to fuck metal-head chicks you should. They love long hair.” Frank gave a quick, tender glance down at his crotch.
“You got a point,” Sam conceded. “So, you’re a bouncer who likes heavy metal and fucking metal chicks. How’d you get to this pinnacle of existence?”
“By way of the Merchant Marines. Which sucked ass so bad, being a bouncer really is a fucking huge step up. And don’t look so surprised that I know the word pinnacle. I scored twelve-seventy on my SAT’s.”
“No fucking way.”
“Yes, fucking way—I’ll show you the paper. My parents framed the fucking thing. I would have done better if I hadn’t been stoned out of my mind.”
“I didn’t mean no way you got a twelve-seventy. I meant no way that you were in the Merchant Marines.”
“Fuckin A right I was. I sailed from one shit hole to the next. The worst fucking experience of my life.”
“Maybe you should have lost the earring?”
“I didn’t have the earring when I was in the Merchant Marines. I got the earring when I started cosmetology school.”
Sam’s burger dropped from his hand back to the greasy white plate on the brown Formica tabletop. “Shut the fuck up. You’re a bouncer at night and a fucking hairdresser by day? I’ve heard a lot of crazy shit, but this is just too fucking much.” Sam looked at Doug and Steve respectively. They both nodded that Frank was telling the truth. Sam shrugged. “At least now I get why you have a pair of gold scissors stuck to your ear.”
Doug gave Frank’s ear a pinch. “We nicknamed him Scissors.”
“It’s a good nickname.” Sam paused and gave it some thought. “Sounds more like a killer than a hairdresser.”
Frank shrugged. The word killer seemed to cause some tension in his shoulders. “I give a fucking killer haircut anyway.”
“I might put you to the test,” Sam paused for just the slightest moment. “If the price is right.” He hated paying for haircuts.
“How does free sound? I’m always looking to practice.”
“It sounds perfect to me,” Sam answered.
“Is it always this crowded?” Sam asked, impressed by the line for the show that stretched from the front door—down the block to the now-full parking lot.
“The place sells out three to four nights a week,” Steve confirmed.
“How many is considered a sellout?” Sam asked.
“Well, when I first started working, twelve hundred was capacity. But the fire martial cut the place back to a thousand.”
“Did the club have to take out seats?” Sam asked, trying to imagine how they could cut their capacity.
Steve shook his head. “No. You’ll see once we get inside. The place is festival seating, so they just had to sell less tickets.”
“What’s festival seating?”
“First come, first serve,” Frank said, trying to simplify Steve’s explanation.
Doug pointed at the line. “That’s why they line up two hours before the doors open.”
“And that’s why we start two hours before the show, to make sure things don’t get out of hand in the line,” Frank added.
“What can get out of hand?” Sam asked.
Frank smirked. “You should ask Steve that question.”
Steve shot Frank a look and then turned to Sam with a little apprehension. “Don’t listen to Frank, the asshole. People get a little restless in line, or pissed if they think someone is cutting in front of them. Our job is just to keep the peace while they’re out here.”
“At least tell him what happened to Willie.” He looked at Sam: his right eyebrow went up slightly. “Willie is the guy you’re replacing.”
Steve sighed. “Two nights ago, Willie caught a little Mexican guy cutting in line and told him to go to the back. Instead of doing what he was asked, he got pissed and sucker-punched Willie in the face with a role of quarters in his hand. Shattered his jaw. That’s why we’re short a guy.”
“Still want to work tonight?” Frank asked.
“I can take care of myself,” Sam answered plainly.
Frank’s brow lifted, causing his forehead to wrinkle with curiosity. “Really? Willie is a lineman for the L.A. Express and he got knocked on his ass pretty good. But of course you probably learned how to take care of yourself in the mean hallways of UCLA. Isn’t that where you said you go to school?”
Sam looked down at the black parking lot pavement, just a hint of a grin on his face—clearly looking for just the right words. He looked back up at Frank, squinting as the last of the day’s sun caught his eyes. “Frank, I don’t want to sound like a dick or anything. But I assure you, I could kick all three of your asses at the same time and not break a sweat.”
There was a moment of tense silence.
Frank looked unsure as to how serious Sam was. He certainly sounded serious. “Well if there’s a problem we’ll come get you.”
“I’d really enjoy that.” Sam tried to smile pleasantly, but it came across as threatening and evil.
John stood at the door with the casual comfort of a young man who had found his calling. Boyish looking in his mid-twenties, he was still the high school football player varsity lineman, beer-bong specialist that spent more time blow-drying his hair than he did studying.
The club itself was deceptively large. Sam hadn’t imagined from the outside that the main room would be a full-blown showroom—complete with balcony seating. The stage was similar to those he had seen in Las Vegas—concealed by an enormous burgundy curtain. He could only guess that it was about forty feet wide.
Sam stood at the door with John. The entrance area of the club was far less grand than the showroom. They let the mostly white-trash crowd into the sold-out show quickly and without incident. The majority of the crowd headed for the main show area. Still, plenty of people hung around the back bar, under Sam and John’s watch from the door.
“You see, we actually have different bosses. You work for Melvin, who has a contract to supply guys like you to the club. I work directly for the club. I’ve been here for five years. I’m Jack’s boy.”
“You’ve been working the door for five years? Isn’t there something else you’d rather do?” Sam asked, not really giving a shit about the pecking order John had just made sure that he was aware of.
John seemed bewildered by the question. “Why would I want to do anything else? This is the best job in the world.”
“You think opening a door and ripping up little fucking pieces of paper is the best fucking job in the world? John, I know we don’t really know each other. But that’s some serious lack of ambition.”
John folded his arms in front of himself and looked at Sam critically. “What you have, New Guy, is a serious lack of understanding. This job isn’t about opening a door or ripping a ticket. It’s all about power. We control something that people want. Something people want—badly.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Sam caught Doug walking toward them. “What’s up?” Sam asked, sensing that something was wrong.
Doug motioned towards the bar with his head. “You see the big biker talking to the little chick with the tattoo?”
He was hard to miss; he looked like a three hundred pound hillbilly. “Yeah, I see him,” Sam said.
“He hangs out at the biker club across the street. He asked me if he could come in for a minute, so I let him in. Then I see him ordering a drink and chatting up the chick like he’s planning to stay. So I walk up and tell him it’s time to go. He tells me, ‘Fuck off, you fucking nigger.’ I wanted to hit him, but I didn’t want to start a racial thing. Do you mind taking care of this?”
Sam walked away without bothering to answer.
“Hey you, fat redneck fuck!” Sam shouted, adrenaline coursing. The biker turned to face him, clearly confused about what was going on. Sam grabbed him by his beard and snapped his head forward so hard and so fast, that the biker lost his balance and fell to his knees, spilling his drink all over himself.
“You fucking tattooed piece of shit!” Sam shouted in his face. The biker tried to pull away but Sam’s hand was wrapped tightly in his beard. “Whose club is this, motherfucker?” Sam punched him in the face with his free hand. He felt the biker’s nose break. He punched him again and felt his cheekbone crack. It was all he could do to restrain himself as he dragged the bleeding, shocked biker through the bar and out the doors. Once at the curb, Sam let go of his beard and gave him a hard kick to the stomach. It took a second for the blow to take effect. But when it did, the biker just groaned and rolled over into the gutter.
Sam looked up to see three of the biker’s friends crossing the street. He felt a surge of excitement.
“What’s up, man?” the smallest of the three asked.
Sam’s whole body tightened. He felt his momentum move forward before he moved at all. A path to the smallest one whose neck he would break first. “You want to see what’s up motherfucker?” Sam glanced at the bleeding biker in the gutter.
“Look, we’re just going to get our friend and go,” the smaller one said.
Sam wasn’t sure he had heard correctly, but he took a step back. Without saying another word they got their buddy to his feet and walked back to where they had come from. He watched them disappear and then turned back to the front door where Doug, Frank, John, and Steve stood staring at him strangely.
“What? You said throw him out. I threw him out.”
“You certainly did,” Steve agreed sardonically. He crossed his arms in front of himself and rubbed his chin. “You certainly did indeed.”
“Thanks bro, you did a good job.” Doug tried to keep a straight face.
Frank clapped his hands together and burst out laughing. “I’m sorry. But I mean, you know I mean you actually rearranged his fucking face and kicked the guy into the gutter, the fucking gutter. That’s really funny.” Frank looked at everybody. “Oh fuck you guys. C’mon that was funny!”
Frank’s sense of humor lightened things up a bit. But Sam felt like he should still defend his actions. “People have to know who’s in charge. You have to set an example. Why don’t you ask biker boy if he’s having a good laugh right now?”
There was no stopping Frank. “Oh, trust me. He’s over there with his friends in tears right now laughing his ass off. I can hear him now. ‘If he had just kicked my whole fucking head in, this would have been the best night ever. Or maybe his foot up my ass would have felt good.’”
Steve turned to Frank. “There’s something wrong with you.”
Frank was still chuckling as he turned away and walked back into the main showroom. “Something wrong with me? I’m not the one who got kicked into the fucking gutter!” he shouted as he disappeared inside.
“I’m going to rove,” Steve said, as he turned and left.
Doug gave Sam’s neck a squeeze. “Thanks again, bro. I can’t tell you how a situation like that feels.”
“Yeah, well screw him. Maybe he’ll think twice before he opens his fucking mouth next time.”
“Maybe,” Doug said, with the sadness of knowing better. “Listen, after work Frank and me grab breakfast across the street at Norm’s. You up for it?”
“Dude, I eat ten thousand calories a day. I never say no to food.”
“All right then.” Doug smiled as he walked away leaving just John, who was looking at Sam strangely.
“What’s on your mind?” Sam asked, with no real interest in knowing.
“Nothing. I’m just not into the whole violence thing. You could probably have just talked the guy into leaving.”
Sam thought for a moment about what John had just said. “Doug gave him a chance. He asked him to leave nicely and he didn’t. Violence is all some people understand.”
“He’s in a gang. What if he comes back with his friends to start some shit?” John asked, unconvinced.
“Fuck them. If they want to have a problem with me, they won’t be happy with how things work out. Trust me.”
“Yeah, I guess not,” John said, with the thoughtful hesitation of a person who realizes that they might be dealing with someone dangerous, maybe even insane.
“Hey man, I got friends inside. How can I get in?”
John turned from Sam to the well-dressed young Asian at the door. “Sorry dude, it’s sold out. The box office is closed.”
Without another word the young Asian man pulled out a twenty and handed it to John. “My friends are waiting.”
John took the twenty and put it in his pocket. “C’mon in. It’s cool.”
The young Asian walked past them toward the showroom. John pulled out his wallet, put the twenty in, and pulled out a ten—which he handed to Sam. “That’s how it works, you watch my back, I watch yours—and we split the money. Is that cool with you?”
Sam put the ten in his pocket. “It beats working an extra hour.”
John smiled. “I never thought of it that way, but you’re right. It beats working an extra hour.”
Sam thought about the backbreaking work his father forced him to do as a child. A never-ending line of trucks that needed to be unloaded. His dad had once told a friend, “Why would I waste money on a forklift? I’ve got Sam!” Sam could hear the words like they were being said right in front of him.
A son, a forklift, no fucking difference.
The show ended and the crowd departed uneventfully. Doug, Frank, and Sam walked through the parking lot to make sure all was well before heading across the street to Norm’s for breakfast. As they reached the sidewalk, Melvin and Steve came around the corner, cutting them off.
“Headed for Norm’s?” Melvin asked.
“Where the fuck else can we eat at two in the morning around here?” answered the mindless stomach called Frank.
Melvin turned to Sam. “So what did you think?”
“It was fun. I wouldn’t exactly call it work.”
Melvin smiled. “You didn’t mind asking the biker to leave?”
Sam shrugged. “No big deal.”
“In the future, don’t hit anybody once they’re outside of the club. Your power ends three feet beyond the door. After that you’re on the public sidewalk and you’re committing assault.” Melvin had turned serious.
Sam nodded but felt compelled to ask the obvious. “What do you mean in the future?”
Steve tapped him on the chest with the Maglite he was holding. “Melvin and me thought you might want to keep working the door.”
“Yeah, I’d like to keep working.” Sam was genuinely flattered. “To be honest though, it seems like John could pretty much handle things himself.”
“Tonight was John’s last night. Jack, as in Jack Landis the owner, just gave him the bad news. The club’s insurance company doesn’t want any employees working positions where they could get involved in a physical altercation. So if you want, you’re our new man at the door.” Melvin said, holding out his hand.
“I’m your man,” Sam confirmed as his hand met Melvin’s with a firm grasp.
Doug, Frank and Sam sat in the corner booth of the greasy diner. The horrid fluorescent lighting cast a particularly bad pallor on the living dead that ate there at three in the morning.
“Are you two really happy making eight bucks an hour?”
Frank swallowed, “Fuck no, that’s why I’m going to cosmetology school.”
“So you can make twenty bucks an hour?” Sam asked looking at him with an expression that screamed, “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me or yourself. Which is it?”
Frank put down his knife and fork. “I’m all ears if you got a better idea?” His tone was void of feeling and his eyes stared coldly at Sam.
“What about you?” Sam asked Doug.
Doug rested his elbows on the table and leaned forward. “Sis is working at the Sizzler yesterday and a guy grabs her ass. I want her at home. I want furniture—and I want a car that I don’t have to start with a screwdriver. So if you got something, I’m in.”
“Tomorrow night, I’ll be working the door. Doug, Steve listens to everything you say—so you need to tell him to put Frank in the parking lot and that you’re going to rove. But for the first part of the night, you’re going to search people as they come through the door.”
“We’ve never searched people before. Not seriously anyway,” said Doug.
“I know. Tell Steve it’s my idea. Tell him I’m worried about someone getting a weapon in, like a knife, which would be a lot worse than a roll of quarters. He’s got a wife and kids. He’ll go for it. Believe me. Steve just wants to get his paycheck and get home in one piece.” Frank and Doug nodded their agreement.
“Anyway, when the doors open, I’m going to take the first two hundred tickets and stuff them in my right jacket pocket.” Sam looked at Frank. “That’s the one facing the inside of the club, not the door.”
Frank nodded, “I got it.”
Sam looked at Doug. “You need to stand back from where I’m standing about three feet and you need to move the crowd past me quickly. They’ll be nervous about getting searched, so they won’t be thinking about a ticket stub. They’re going to be thinking about whether or not they have something that they’re going to get busted for. Also, by standing back a few feet, you’ll have a clear view down the hallway to the showroom, so you can let me know if we have an unwanted visitor on the way. You guys with me so far?”
They both nodded their heads again.
“Just keep going. I think I’m getting hard,” Frank commented.
“Thanks for sharing that Frank,” Sam shot back.
Frank looked over at Doug. “Did he just try to say something funny?”
“Anyway,” Sam continued, “just before we start letting people in, find out in the parking lot, and in the line, who still needs tickets. Then tell them to meet you behind the building. Watch the door. When it looks like I’ve let in a hundred people, cruise by to make sure Doug and I are okay. Walk up close on my right side and pull the tickets out of my pocket. It’ll be packed up there with people waiting to be searched, so trust me no one will notice. I’m going to keep on taking tickets, and you’re going to ask me if we’re all right. I’ll say ‘yeah we’re fine’, and then you take the un-ripped tickets out to the parking lot and sell them for twenty bucks a piece.
“At the end of the night we’ll come here and split the cash. I get fifty percent. Frank gets forty. Doug, you’re in for ten. Frank and I will be taking most of the risk, so I think that’s fair. And let’s face it, neither of us has a wife to answer to if something goes wrong and we get canned. What do you guys think?”
“I’ll sell the shit out of those tickets,” said Frank.
“I’m cool with it,” Doug agreed. “You guys are taking the risk. But from now on you guys are buying breakfast.”
“What if there’s not a sellout?” Frank asked, with just a hint of greed.
“The place sells out three to four nights a week, right? On the nights it doesn’t, we’ll just chalk them up to getting paid to hang out. At three to four sellouts a week, we’re doing fine. I’m talking six to sixteen grand a week fine.” Sam was sure Frank hadn’t done the math. He hoped his answer was a reality check.
“Bro, what do you think the chances are of nobody noticing?” Doug looked grave. “You’re talking serious money.”
“Doug, think about it. It’s a lot of money, but it’s not out of anybody’s pocket. Nobody’s gonna notice. The club is happy because they’re selling more drinks. And the bands are happy because they’re selling more shirts. Everyone’s a winner.” Sam paused and then slammed his fist against the table. “Shit!”
Frank and Doug exchanged worried glances.
“I forgot to call my girlfriend and tell her I was going to be late. Fuck!”
Doug shook his head with the understanding only married men have. “Bro, you are in trouble.”
Frank, unlike Doug, was oblivious to Sam’s plight. “Oh come on. Any girl that dates you must be used to all kinds of shit. I’m picturing Calamity-fucking-Jane.”
Sam smiled. “You really are a dumbfuck. Do you think for a second I’d date anyone remotely like myself?”
“I’m sorry, my second guess was Mary-fucking-Poppins. C’mon, throw us some details.”
“Her name is Stacy. She doesn’t smoke, she barely drinks, she’s never done drugs, and she was a twenty-one-year-old virgin when we met, so she says. If it was true, she was probably the only one at UCLA.”
Frank looked at Doug. “Notice he said was a virgin.” He turned back to Sam. “How the fuck did a guy like you meet a girl like her? I’ve got to hear this.”
Sam shrugged. “Opposites attract.”
“Oh bullshit! There’s more to it than that. Don’t make me beg, just tell us the fucking story.”
“We met this summer during the Olympics. We were both employed as Los Angeles Olympic hosts by Anheuser-Busch. Busch spent forty million dollars to become an official Olympic sponsor and they spent about the same on hospitality.”
“Eighty million dollars. That’s a lot of fucking money.” Frank was trying to get his head around the number.
“Hospitality for the athletes?” asked Doug.
“No, hospitality for Busch VIP’s,” Sam clarified. “Mostly distributors and suppliers. There’s a lot of money in beer, my brother. I know it’s hard to imagine me babysitting a bunch of barley farmers. But I was fucking great at it. Rich people love me. I made the Busch VIP’s feel like rock stars. And it wasn’t an easy job to get. They had ten thousand all-American kids competing for sixty positions. I was hand-picked.”
“You went through all of this to make how much?” Frank asked, raising a suspicious eyebrow.
“I went through an open call and seven interviews to make two hundred and fifty dollars a day, see every Olympic event, eat all the food I wanted, live at the Century Plaza Hotel, and steal a million dollars worth of Anheuser-Busch Olympic pins.”
Frank let out a burst of laughter. “Un-fucking-believable. You met your Mary-fucking-Poppins girlfriend while you were ripping off Anheuser-Busch.”
“Bro, I’m not doubting you. But I don’t understand. How’d you make money on Olympic pins?” Doug asked.
“On lunatics like my parents,” Frank answered for Sam. “Coins, stamps, trading cards, and pins. They actually have a fucking motor home that they drive to shows all over the country where they sell all that kind of shit.”
“Very good, Scissors.” Sam turned to Doug. “You see bro, pin trading at the Olympics is almost bigger than the Olympics themselves. Every four years people come from all over the world to trade pins. So right down on Exposition Boulevard Busch erected a four story inflatable six-pack of Budweiser Beer that housed the International Pin-Trading Center. They also made a set of Anheuser-Busch trading pins that they put in every VIP gift pack that I was supposed to hand out. Needless to say, the night before the Olympics started, I took every set of pins out of every pack, ten thousand of them. I recruited some fellow all-American VIP hosts to sell them for me. And the rest, as they say, is Olympic History.”
Frank leaned back against the booth and clasped his hands behind his head, trying to picture the whole thing. “Okay, you get into the storeroom the night before. That’s easy because you’re in charge of the bags. But how the fuck does no one notice the missing pins? And why the fuck did Busch put up a pin- trading center?”
“It was a gift bag—nobody knew what was supposed to be in the thing. Basically the guests had no clue. And the only people who did have a fucking clue were back somewhere in Saint Louis. Even if anybody had asked me, I would have just told them I had no idea what’s supposed to be in the thing, I just handed them out. As for the six-pack, Busch had no choice; they had to find a way to do their corporate branding thing. The L.A. Olympic committee wouldn’t let corporate sponsors hang their tacky fucking signs all over the venues.”
“So you were in charge of the pin-trading center?” Frank asked.
“No. Officially I was in charge of ‘Sam the Eagle’, the Olympic Mascot. There were two of them—a real eagle and a costume eagle, just like the ones you see at Disneyland. After the opening ceremonies the real one dropped dead in its cage. So I had the only official mascot in town. I actually had my own tour bus. When I wasn’t shaking down the other corporate sponsors for mascot appearances, I just stayed parked outside of the pin-trading center so I could keep an eye on my pin business.”
“You really are a ruthless motherfucker,” Frank said with admiration. “You live the American Dream.”
“And I do a great job while doing it,” Sam said, and paused picturing the pins. “They were selling so fast at eighty bucks a piece that I raised the price to a hundred and twenty. I ran out halfway through the second week of the games.”
Frank reached down and pulled his pants away from his crotch. “Okay, so you cleared a million and change. But how did you wind up getting the girl?”
“C’mon man it’s late. I’ll tell you the rest some other time.” Sam was thinking about his drive home and his sound-asleep girlfriend.
“Yeah, fuck that. I want to hear some romantic shit before we leave.”
“C’mon, bro,” Doug urged.
“Okay, here it is. But if one of you laughs even once, end of story.”
Frank waved his hand in front of his face, “I won’t even smile.”
“All right, it’s like this. I was feeling so good about all the fun I was having and all the money I was making that I got the urge to do something. I don’t know how to describe it exactly, altruistic maybe. I’m not completely sure.”
“Please don’t tell me you decided to help some poor fucking-inner-city kids?” Frank pleaded. “Anything but that.”
“Day six of the Olympics I call the AP news service and let them know that ‘Sam the Eagle’ is going to be making an appearance in front of the International Pin-Trading Center. I explained that he’s there to bring joy, happiness, and the Olympic spirit to underprivileged children. Then I call some youth organizations and tell them to come on down and bring their cameras. ‘Sam the Eagle’ was all theirs for half an hour. I also threw in free candy and sodas for everybody.
“That afternoon, it was camera crew mania at the six-pack. Poor, fucking-inner-city kids hanging out with the Olympic mascot, drinking sodas, eating candy, and having the best time of their impoverished young lives. Best of all, it was unfolding in front of a giant six-pack of Budweiser. A billion people around the world were watching. I was so happy with how things worked out that I called it an early day, watched some of the swimming finals, and headed back to the hotel.
Sam’s mind drifted back to the hospitality desk of the Century Plaza that summer night.
“The boss left a message that you’re supposed to go straight to her office,” the attractive young girl at the reception desk informed him in a fairly serious tone.
The door to his boss Kathy’s office was slightly open. Sam entered with some apprehension. No employee ever desired to be summoned by his or her superior. To his surprise the room was empty except for an important looking gentleman sitting behind the boss’ desk. He had a full head of gray hair and wore a conservative suit.
“Did someone want to see me?” Sam asked.
“Do you know who I am?” His voice was deep. He spoke with authority.
“No.” Sam sensed trouble.
“I’m the vice president of Anheuser-Busch. I take it you’re the young man who staged the media event at the Pin-Trading Center today?”
Oh shit. This is the end of the Olympics for me. No good deed goes unpunished.
Sam simply said. “I made a few calls. I thought it would be a good idea to get some free publicity.”
The vice president didn’t look happy. “Have you ever heard of Flashman Alvord?”
“No, I can’t say that I have.”
“They’re our public relations firm. We pay them millions of dollars every year to stage media events. Our relationship with them is very important to us. You embarrassed them today and that’s bad for our relationship.”
“I was just trying to help,” Sam said quietly, penitently.
“I know and that’s why you’re not going to be fired,” the vice president paused—allowing Sam to feel the heat of his blazing stare. “But don’t, I repeat, don’t, try to help again. Just do your job and let them do theirs. You got it?”
“Yes sir, not a problem.”
The vice president’s tone softened. “Sam, sit down for a minute.” Sam was happy to oblige. “Son, who are you? What’s your background?”
“I’m just a street kid from East L.A., sir,” Sam said humbly.
“You go to school?”
“Yes sir, I go to UCLA.”
“That’s a good school. Do you study hard and get good grades?”
Sam thought back to when he actually gave a fuck about his grades. “I used to,” he answered politely.
The vice president looked him up and down. “You’re one of those one in a million kids. But I’m sensing that something’s going wrong. I can’t help but wonder what. If you need someone to talk to I’m listening.”
“I’m worried about the future,” Sam told the important man sitting in front of him
Sam could see the look of concern on the vice president’s face ease. The light in the office was soft and warm.
“Off the record,” the vice president leaned forward. “A kid who can show up and embarrass, the largest PR firm in the country is very impressive.” He lowered his voice like they were good friends about to share a secret. “You just had the idea and went with it?”
Sam saw no benefit in lying to his new friend, the vice president. He had already been told getting fired was off the table. “Yes, sir. I just thought it up this morning and went with it. No big deal.”
“Amazing. There’s nothing like individual initiative. I tell all my top people that, over and over again. In fact it’s the Busch doctrine. I hope you understand I had to say what I said to you. We’re one of the largest corporations in the world. We can’t just have some kid running around doing whatever he wants. But I appreciate what you did. Our people got caught sitting on their asses. When you’re done with school, you give me a call.”
A busboy collided with a waitress at the far end of the restaurant. There was a loud crash. The result of someone’s bacon and eggs hitting the floor. “Shit!” Sam heard the waitress say. He was surprised she cared enough to use profanity. Then looking over to the scene of the collision he realized she was upset because the food had wound up on her Norm’s uniform before the plates took their fall. Sam looked back to his new coworkers and finished his story.
“I was in a bit of a daze as I walked back out to the reception area, thankful that I didn’t just get fired. The night shift had arrived—and Stacy was at the hospitality desk.”
Frank smiled. “And of course you had never met her before because she worked the night shift.”
Sam nodded. “If I hadn’t gotten called in for doing the whole underprivileged inner-city kid thing, we would have never met. And that’s the story. It’s late. Let’s get the fuck out of here.”
Doug wasn’t going anywhere. “No way, bro. I got to know what happened after you saw her.”
Frank looked at his watch. “Fuck it, I hate to admit it. But I’m actually finding this fucking story interesting. At least give us the short version. What the fuck did you say to her?”
“I sat down in the chair in front of her and said, ‘Who are you?’”
“She asked, ‘Who wants to know?’ And the rest of the story is for another day.” Sam stood up and fished the keys out of his pocket. “Come on, let’s go.”
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No Place Like Home
Jim Carrington made the left turn onto the three-mile stretch of dirt road that led to his parents’ house. The road was so familiar. But it had been two long years since he had been home.
He was only twenty-six-years-old, but looked older. Working and going to law school full time had contributed to a few premature wrinkles. He still tried to run four miles a day and did plenty of pushups and sit-ups to keep his body from suffering the same fate as his brow. At five-foot-ten, one hundred and sixty-five pounds his physique had not changed at all in the last few years. He wondered what his mother would think of his mustache. “It makes you look older Jim,” she would say.
“No, the wrinkles from not sleeping for the last two years did that,” he would tell her. There was no point in arguing. It made him look older and he knew it. At least his hair was holding out. Light brown hair and blue green eyes like his mother’s side of the family. They were Germans who had somehow wound up in England before immigrating to the United States in the late 1800s.
Window down, Jim breathed in the air of his formative years. The crickets were loud. He had forgotten how loud they were. If you lived in the countryside long enough, the sound of crickets and the other night creatures was just there like background music, like the ticking of the grandfather clock in the den of his family’s house. Heard but not listened to, like so many other things in life.
He looked over at his wife Julie, his high-school sweetheart. She looked back at him reassuringly. They were the same age, but she looked five years younger than he did. Blonde hair, blue eyes, and perfect skin. Still every bit the girl who went on to become head cheerleader and homecoming queen he had asked out on a date when they were fourteen-years-old. Having Missy had no adverse effects on her figure. Most women lost it after kids, or ridiculously over compensated. Julie did Jane Fonda for a half hour in the morning and she looked great. And she looked like a woman. Jim wanted to laugh. It was hard to imagine that he owed anything to Jane Fonda, let alone his wife’s good figure.
Say Jane Fonda’s name in my father’s house and see what happens. Could be the last name you say.
Carringtons still called their elders “Sir”. Carringtons still honored their parents’ wishes.
Julie’s hand squeezed his arm. “It’s going to be okay. Don’t worry so much.”
“Don’t worry so much? You know my father—”
“Your dad is going to be fine. I mean, after a few years, I’m sure he’ll be fine.” She looked like she wanted to laugh. Jim’s father was a third-generation farmer; he wasn’t the type of man who liked surprises.
Jim shook his head. “Not funny. Cruel, in fact.”
Julie tilted her head and gave him a wink. “You’ll always have me.” The car hit a bump and the sound of a baby who didn’t want to be woken was immediately audible. Julie laughed. “I think the baby’s awake.” Jim grimaced.
They didn’t talk for the next ten minutes. There was no point. Missy was howling and every bump only made her scream louder. Jim took a deep breath as he pulled up to his parents’ single-story farmhouse. There were more cars parked in front than there had been for the wedding. He looked at Julie. “Is there anyone they didn’t invite?”
Julie opened the rear door and began unbuckling their now quiet daughter from her car seat. “ Oh sweetie, they didn’t forget anybody. We’re in Tennessee, remember.”
Jim loved Tennessee. If his father hadn’t insisted on his going to college, he would have been a fourth-generation farmer. “Thanks for reminding me,” he said sarcastically.
The dining-room table, built by Jim’s great-grandfather, was covered with his mother’s unbelievably good cooking. Much like the cluttered table, it seemed every person Jim had ever known was in the room. They stood around the table creating a cacophony of down home farm chatter. Strong, powerfully built men with callused hands—most dressed in jeans and flannel shirts. Fathers and sons, wives and daughters—they had all turned out. Jim noticed Julie had managed to escape with Missy to the kitchen. His mother always offered her refuge back there. Too bad she’s not part of the lively conversation, Jim thought to himself.
“I bought the new John Deer 350—but I sent them back their damn baseball cap. I don’t care if it’s free, if it’s made in China they can keep it. I’ve got plenty of old ones that were made here and I can always wear my Caterpillar hat. You’ll see, one day they won’t even want to make tractors here. That’s the day I stop farming. You hear me, Bob? That’s the day.”
“Hey, you see the new irrigation ditch they dug over at the Taylor place?”
“Did I see it? I was in it. Tikee jumped out of the back of the truck again and headed straight for the water. If that dog would chase roosters the way he chases cold water…”
There was loud laughter. “Jim, come here. Come here, college boy.” A big, powerful farmer’s arm was around his neck. Then a pull, similar to that of a combine. He was now in the solid grasp of Big Bill Blackwelder. Dressed in overalls and a flannel shirt, Jim could not recall having ever seen him wear anything else.
“How the hell does Bob keep that damn black lab of his out of irrigation ditches?”
“I mean, don’t get me wrong.” Bob’s voice was filled with sincerity, “He’s a good dog, but I’m afraid he’s going to jump one day when I’m doing sixty and that’s it. Had that dog twelve years. Hate to see anything happen to him.”
“Twelve years? Where does time go?” There was another powerful combine-like tug on Jim’s neck. Big Bill could uproot a tree with his bare hands. “I remember when this one was just a pup.”
“So what do you think Jim? What should I do about that dog?” Bob asked, thankfully before Big Bill could find another reason to give his neck another yank.
“Keep him in the cab if he won’t stay settled in back.” Jim hoped he sounded more like an adult than a pup.
“Tikee ain’t no city dog. You think he’d like being locked up like that? I’d rather just leave him at home than make him ride up front. Maybe I should get him one of those sweaters.”
“Or a bandana,” another voice offered.
“I just meant…”
“You want to come over and do some work tomorrow?” Big Bill asked. “Get your head back on right?” Laughs, “No joking, Jim. I’ve got some cows to inseminate. Why don’t you come by?”
The sharp ring of the spoon his father had just tapped against the side of the crystal glass in his hand rang out. “Everybody, I’d like to make a toast.”
Jim’s father was a wiry man with a strong chin and sunken eyes. Although he was a man of few words, he had a powerful voice—driven by strength of character. When Carrington senior spoke, people listened. The room suddenly went quiet. Jim looked down. The night had been going smoothly. But this was the moment he knew would come.
“I’d like to make a toast to my son, Jim. He was the first Carrington to go to college. And now, he’s graduated law school.” Jim’s father looked right at him. “I’m very proud of you.” He raised his glass. The rest of the room followed suit. “To my son, Jim.” The whole room spoke in unison: “To Jim.” They drank to Jim, the local farm boy who done good.
Jim’s father looked around the room, beaming with pride. His son had graduated top of his class at Harvard. He had asked many times about what type of job offers Jim was getting. His son had seemed hesitant to say. “You’ll make more in a week than a farmer makes in a good year,” he had told him.
“Son, have you made a decision as to what type of law you’ll be practicing?” Jim’s father asked.
Jim respected his father more than any person on earth. So avoiding eye contact was not an option. “Yes sir, I know what I’m going to do. I’ve already accepted a job.”
There was a buzz in the room. “That’s fantastic, Jim. Who are you gonna work for?”
“I’ll be working for the FBI, sir.”
“The FBI? What type of law are you going to practice working for the FBI?”
“Law enforcement, dad. I’m going to be a field agent. And I’m going to practice law enforcement.”
Jim’s eyes met his father’s. Without his dad having to say a word, Jim knew he had just shattered his father’s dream.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Stan Lerner is an award winning-author whose diverse credits include the novels “Stan Lerner’s Criminal”, “Blast”, “In Development,” and the children’s book “Stanley The Elephant.” Stan Lerner is also the creator of the Las Vegas music spectacle “Night Tribe” and the writer, director, producer of the hit motion picture “Meet The Family.” Mr. Lerner was born in Montebello CA and has lived in downtown Los Angeles for the last fifteen years.
For more information about Stan Lerner please visit his author profile at http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/stan
OTHER BOOKS BY STAN LERNER
“In Development” is a hilarious account of a day in the life of Stan Peters—Hollywood’s most powerful and scummiest producer.
The day begins like any other day—a superlative, five-star breakfast at The Peninsula Hotel. However, the shocking news that there has been a change at the very top of the studio means that the perfect world of Stan and his closest associates could come to a sudden end—especially with a movie like “Two Jews and a Blonde Psycho” in development. The subsequent call from Brad, the new studio boss, confirms their greatest fear—their movie is in danger of being put in turn-around. A day of sex, manipulation, lying, betrayal, blackmail, and murder ensues — otherwise known in Hollywood as a happy ending.
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To sample or purchase “Blast” please visit:
To sample or purchase “Impact” please visit:
GET CHICKS 101
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GET THE RIGHT GUY
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NINETY- NINE POSTS
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