Friday, November 30, 2012
In yesterday's interview with Dennis Hart, we talked about the tomato scene in the book and Dennis's trouble and bad luck magnets. This excerpt is one of my favorite scenes in the book. I think it shows Hart's gift of combining suspense and humor to show the reader the fear he lived with on a daily basis. I hope you enjoy this excerpt from Life Minus 3 1/2 by Dennis Hart.
Hide and Seek
I was two days back from Arizona when the first of several confrontations took place. As I was leaving on my lunch hour from AESAR to get cash for the bookies, I found a young man leaning on the tail end of my truck. He appeared to be in his mid-twenties. I had no reason to suspect anything other than a guy taking a break, but because I lived my life constantly on edge, I thought about doubling back into my office to retrieve my gun. But then I remembered the one in my truck. I just needed to unlock the door and get in. Before I could do that, the guy started walking toward me.
“Excuse me, sir. Do you know if Kelly is inside?”
I put the key in the lock. “There’s no Kelly inside.” The door locks popped up.
“How do you know? Do you own this place?” he asked, his tone suddenly changing.
I should have suspected the worst, climbed into my truck, and driven away, but I didn’t. My trouble magnet, in need of some attention, gave me a thumbs-up. I turned to the guy and said, “Yeah, I own this place, and I don’t employ anyone named Kelly.”
I opened the truck and started to get in, but the guy maneuvered his way between me and the open door. He was a little taller than me with slim features. He had a scar on his left jaw and some tats peeking out from his short-sleeved t-shirt.
“We need to talk,” he said, getting in my face.
“Who the hell are you?” I asked.
“I’m a messenger, a tax collector, a civil f#^@*in’servant. It don’t matter who I am. It matters that you listen.”
I rolled my eyes. I should have been nervous, but my fear tank was running on fumes. I just didn’t care anymore.
“I’m listening, chief,” I replied.
“Good. My people want some money, plain and simple. I meet you here every week, and you give me an envelope of cash. This buys you protection—like an insurance policy. Am I explaining this clearly?”
A shakedown? I couldn’t believe it, but then again, I was getting used to the incredible which was my life. I wanted to slam the truck door into the guy and break every bone in his face, but instead I started to laugh. When I laughed, he laughed. We looked like two good buddies sharing a joke.
“Who put you up to this?” I asked, smiling.
The guy grabbed my shirt with both fists and got so close our noses briefly touched. His eyes were ablaze. I hoped my coworkers weren’t looking.
“Five thousand each week or the shit hits the fan for you. It starts right here next week. You’ll be hearing back from me.”
Without waiting for a reply, he released his grip on my shirt, stepped away, and started walking toward Route 1. I followed his movements for a few seconds. He had trouble crossing with the traffic. It gave me enough time to open the glove compartment and grab my gun. I jammed it into my pocket and followed his path across the busy two-lane street. I watched from a distance as he walked through the parking lot of several small one-story offices anchored by a family-owned fruit and vegetable stand. He never looked back. Too confident, I thought. He paused in front of the farm stand, examined the offerings displayed in several bushel baskets, and then walked inside the market. This guy threatens me and then goes food shopping?
I followed Scarface into the market. He was examining something in aisle two as I walked parallel to him down aisle one. I could see him over the tops of the fruit and vegetable racks. A woman walked in behind me with two young boys in tow. In aisle two, several people were shopping casually. Once I got past the highest stack of produce, Scarface came into full view, blocked only by a hanging scale. On his arm was a plastic shopping basket with handles. I stared at him as he massaged a melon. In front of me were open containers of cherries. I lifted one by the stem and threw it at him.
The cherry whizzed past his right ear. Scarface sensed it. He quickly looked to his right, then turned and looked behind him. I picked another cherry and threw it. My second toss was dead on, hitting Scarface on the cheek, startling him momentarily before he regained his focus. One of the little boys near me howled with laughter. Scarface looked across the aisles, first at the boy, then at me. He seemed surprised to see me at first, then gave me his I’m- the-toughest-bastard-in-the-world look before mouthing the word, “Outside.” I nodded, inviting him to join me immediately. I had banks to visit and checks to cash, so I couldn’t spend all day playing with this thug.
But instead of meeting me outside, he continued to shop. I moved a few feet down to the tomato crates and selected a bright red one. I tossed it across the aisle, and it bounced off Scarface’s chest. The kid behind me howled again. I turned and smiled at the astute young man. His mother was asking him what was so funny. In the meantime, I had Scarface’s full attention. He dropped his basket and came around the end of the aisle toward me.
When he was close enough, he grabbed me with one hand around the back of my neck and guided me out of the store like an insolent child. I went limp, like the pathetic target he thought I was. Outside of the farm stand, he gripped my neck harder and directed me along the storefronts toward a cemetery that bordered the parking lot. When we were close to the graveyard and clear of shoppers, I pulled out my gun and jammed it into his side. Scarface stopped in his tracks. He released his grip on me.
“What are you driving, tough guy?” I asked. He pointed to a Ford Taurus.
We walked over to his car. I instructed him to get inside and place his hands on the wheel. As he got in, he said, “You’re making a big f#*^in’mistake, Mister Businessman.”
I pointed the gun at his head. I thought for a second about what he said and agreed with a nod. “I’ve been making big f#%^*ng mistakes all my life, tough guy. Tell me, have you or someone you know been sitting in a pick-up truck over in my parking lot, checking me out the past few months?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He sounded convincing. Plus, he didn’t look like the guy I had seen. The thought of being stalked by one guy and threatened by another infuriated me. That, on top of the bookies applying more pressure, the embezzlement I couldn’t stop, and the future that offered nothing more than a ruinous finale, pushed me to the edge of my sanity. I pushed the gun against his neck.
“You don’t want to find out how screwed up I am, OK? Just drive back to whatever asshole of a life farted you out, and I’ll forget you tried to extort money from me. Don’t come back. Tell your people you don’t want to mess with someone as f#%^*d up as me.” I withdrew the gun. Scarface started his engine, left the parking lot and headed south on Route 1.
I stood alone trying to figure out what just happened. Who was that guy and who was he working for? Was it random, a tout service from Vegas, or some bookie trying to extort from me? I couldn’t imagine what else could go wrong in my life, but my trouble magnet opened a book that held pages of possibilities.
I spent the next several weeks in a heightened state of paranoia. I confronted each bookie and asked if they had eyes on me; none admitted to it, but I didn’t believe any of them. I spent too much time looking out my office window to see if someone was watching me from the parking lot. On two occasions I spotted the pick-up truck, but when I ran out of my office to confront the driver, he sped off. I wrote down the license plate, but it would do me no good since I had no connections at the Registry of Motor Vehicles, and I certainly couldn’t call the police. I thought about a private investigator, but that might open up a can of worms with regards to my embezzlement. Scarface hadn’t returned, but I figured it was only a matter of time.
Essentially, I came to accept the fact I needed to live my life in a constant state of awareness, to have eyes in the back of my head. I had to be suspicious of strangers and fearful of figures lurking in the shadows. I had to carry my gun with me twenty-four, seven.
Dennis Hart is the owner of an environmental equipment rental company in Massachusetts. He is married, with four children and four grandchildren. An active member of a writer’s forum since 2010 called “The Next Big Writer,” his work has been well received and critiqued by other authors. His memoir, Life Minus 3½, was ranked number one for several weeks out of hundreds of submissions. In a separate writing contest judged by published authors, the memoir was selected third best out of 427 entries. It has also received a recommended review by KIRKUS.
His full-length novels include Gulf Boulevard, which is currently under representation, Pictures of Children, Flight of the Owl, and his short stories include Storms, Bandits, and Heat Wave. He is currently working on the sequel to Gulf Boulevard titled Gulf Boulevard-Postcards from the World.
Where to find Dennis: