20080518

Book Lover








This is how I got picked up for four counts of B&E.

My girlfriend and I wanted to get out of town for a few months. We wanted to see some places overseas, and maybe go home and see her folks. But we didn’t have the money, so she came up with a pretty good idea to get some traveling funds together. First thing, we got on the internet and started looking at all the apartment advertisements.

We didn’t look at the ones put out by brokers or realtors. We only looked at the ones put out by people who were trying to do it on their own and cheat the system. I hate books and I hate to read, so Beth-Anne did all the reading. She made a list and started calling people to set up appointments.

We made a map, and really got down into the science of it, putting pins in the wall and trying to figure out the most efficient trains. After a week or so of scanning the online ads and making hundreds of phone calls from pay phones, we managed to get a whole day together of appointments on a rigorous timetable. We had a different place to see every hour for six hours straight on Saturday. And at the end of the day, at seven o’ clock, we had plane tickets waiting for us at the airport to take us out of the city and back to South Carolina where her parents lived.

“It’s stealing stuff,” said Beth-Anne. “But it’s not like we are murderers or child molesters.”

“You don’t have to convince me,” I said. “Stuff isn’t real. Stuff gets traded around every day between greedy assholes like herpes does. There’s nothing wrong with stealing stuff, and nobody ever went to hell for it.”

“That’s why I love you,” said Beth-Anne.

We set up a connection with a guy who bought cell phones, IDs and credit cards and who said he could meet us at the airport on our way off. Here was the deal: we’d give him a duffel bag filled with what we stole, and he’d look through it in the bathroom, and he’d come out with his appraisal in cash.

I talked to three independent sources and they all said he was fair.

The day started out just as we imagined it, and we got giddy with how smart and sly we were on account of everything going according to plan. You always think it’s all going to go wrong -- and it didn’t at first -- which was so shocking that we thought we had magic powers.

The first appointment was a group of kids right out of high school who were living in a sprawling brownstone with ten rooms and a basement. Beth-Anne went in by herself and they showed her the place and she made sure to leave the front door unlocked. She had her phone in her pocket and she texted me all sorts of directions and details. Finally, she got the kids all together in one of the upstairs rooms to talk money, and she texted me with “GO.”

I had been waiting in the alley, and I went in fast. Maybe five of them were home, and they were all skinny and stupid and stoned.

I didn’t have a gun because I didn’t want to accidentally shoot anybody. I wore sunglasses and a hat that said “Fuck Me Felix” on the front. If you were looking at me, you wouldn’t remember me at all. All you would remember is “Fuck Me Felix.” Instead of a gun, I had an old-fashioned claw hammer that had gone rusted but still had a perfect weight in my big flat hand for swinging. I busted in through the front door and ran clomping up the stairs to the room where they were gathered and trying to seal the deal. I could hear their voices. I could hear Beth-Anne babbling about her cat.

“He bites,” she said.

“So the thing is,” asked one of the kids. “Do you have a boyfriend?”

Right then, I busted through the door, swinging my hammer.

“I want everybody’s wallets, phones, and money,” I said, grabbing Beth-Anne. “I want ALL your money, even the stuff you are hiding. Or I’m gonna bash this lady’s head in.”

I looked scary to these kids. Scars and tattoos. Beth-Anne started fake-crying in my arms and she tried to struggle, but I raised my hammer menacingly and the kids all got real quiet and started giving over everything they had. I followed them to their bedrooms, and they gave me wadded up rolls of bills, and one guy even gave over his stash of weed. It was a stupid little stash, but I took it.

“You kids need to all get jobs,” I said. “You have more to offer to the world than this.”

I grabbed Beth-Anne and we split as soon as we had everything we could take. They must have had over a thousand dollars just lying around their rooms, rolled up in rubber bands and sprawled out on bedside tables.

On the sidewalk, I gave Beth-Anne a big, sloppy kiss.

“Hey, they are in it together!” shouted one of them from a window.

I saluted them with my hammer and then pointed to my cock. Beth-Anne stuck her tongue in my ear as we hustled away.

They stood there with their stupid beards and milky eyes looking at us get away, but they didn’t chase after us. Who knows if they even ever bothered to call the cops?

Beth-Anne and I hit the train for our next appointment.

The next two places were disappointing, but real easy. After the first place, we didn’t make as much money. Maybe five hundred more dollars in goods and cash.

This Middle-Eastern guy we robbed didn’t even seem to mind. He just shook his head while I bashed at his furniture with my hammer looking for hidden things and while Beth-Anne pretended to be terrified. I got the feeling that this wasn’t the first time this had happened to him.

We’d already made more money than we would need, but we were on a roll, and we didn’t want to jinx the plan by deviating from it. So we kept going.

The fourth appointment of the day was on the top floor of a huge building, and we almost skipped it, because there was an elevator and an intercom system, and Beth-Anne couldn’t get cell-phone reception.

But Beth-Anne talked me into it. She said she could buzz me in. She said this would actually be even safer than doors and locks.

I waited by the buzzer as I paced back and forth with my hammer in my hand. The nameplate on the guy’s mailbox said: “P.X. Glinty.” Finally, after ten minutes, the elevator opened up and I got inside.

After fifty floors, the door opened up on a wall of books. I was staring right at the spine of a book called “Sleep Howdy,” by Dexter Cuts.

I stepped forward and saw two lines of books stretching out in either direction away from me. At both bends, there was a green lamp with a black shade, and since this was the only light, the place was dark as hell. The bookshelves stretched all the way to the ceiling. I picked a direction and started walking, but I only came to another bend.

It was a maze of books so dense that I had to crouch in places and walk sideways like a crab. There didn’t seem to be any sense to it, and the apartment must have been as big as the whole floor. I could hear voices at the other end, but I couldn’t see how to get over there. One of the voices was Beth-Anne, and I figured the other one belonged to this P.X Glinty. He had a big, pompous voice that rattled me inside, like listening to a lecture from my dad.

“I KNOW THAT I HAVE TRICKED YOU,” said the man. “BUT TELL ME: WOULD YOU REALLY HAVE COME IF YOU KNEW WHAT YOU WERE GETTING INTO? I USED TO DESCRIBE MY ACTUAL SITUATION IN THE ADVERTISEMENTS, AND ALL I GOT WERE WEIRDOS AND SEXUAL PREDATORS.”

“There are weirdos everywhere,” said Beth-Anne, diplomatically.

Where the hell were they?

“I CAN ALREADY TELL THAT YOU AREN’T INTERESTED,” said the man. “BUT CONSIDER THE OFFER SO YOU CAN SPREAD THE WORD AND TELL YOUR FRIENDS. YOU WOULD LIVE HERE RENT FREE, AND ALL THAT YOU WOULD HAVE TO DO IS PUT THE BOOKS BACK WHEN I AM DONE READING THEM. MY BROTHER CAN FIND THE BOOKS THAT I WANT AND HE CAN BRING THEM TO ME, BUT HE GETS SO FRUSTRATED AT PUTTING THEM BACK, AND THEY REALLY START TO PILE UP.”

I noticed that in addition to the titles on each of the books, there was a series of stickers in some sort of code. Each book had five stickers with simple shapes pasted down each spine. I looked closely at the spine of “A Man of Two Worlds,” by Miriam Sonsman. There was a cross, a banana, a star, a horsehoe, and a pair of devil horns.

I started shuffling faster through the twisting stacks. I knew they were on the other side and that I was getting close. I started to trot.

“REMEMBER,” said the man. “FREE RENT. I KNOW THAT I AM LOUD AND OBNOXIOUS, BUT THAT IS ALL JUST PART OF MY CONDITION. IT CAN BE FORGIVEN BY A CHARITABLE SOUL. ANOTHER THING: I DON’T WANT TO LIVE WITH ANYBODY WHO DOESN’T LOVE BOOKS. YOU MUST LOVE BOOKS.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” said Beth-Anne. “Anyway, I’d better be going. It was nice to meet you.”

“AND SAY IT WAS NICE TO MEET MY BROTHER, TOO. SAY IT WAS NICE TO MEET LITTLE CASPER. HE LIKES NICE LADIES, AND YOU MUST UNDERSTAND, HE IS BEHAVING EXCEPTIONALLY WELL RIGHT NOW.”

I saw a hole in the bookshelves and through it I saw Beth-Anne’s back. I was getting close. I made another right turn and found myself at a dead end.

“Fuckbag,” I said.

“DID YOU HEAR SOMEONE SAY “FUCKBAG?” asked P.X. Glinty.

“I didn’t hear anything,” said Beth-Anne.

“DID YOU CALL ME A FUCKBAG?” asked P.X. Glinty.

“I would never call anyone a fuckbag,” said Beth-Anne.

“BECAUSE THAT WOULD BE AN EXCEPTIONALLY MEAN THING TO SAY,” said P.X. Glinty. “ON ACCOUNT OF MY CONDITION.”

I backtracked to the hole in the books where I saw Beth-Anne’s pretty shoulders. I had to bust through, otherwise I would be walking around these damn book stacks all afternoon. I backed up and measured the distance and I took a running start.

I bent my head down low and crashed through the hole, waggling my hammer. I knocked a few boards out of alignment as I tumbled through the shelves, and it felt good. It was satisfying after being constricted by all those fucking tunnels.

“Alright, nobody move!” I shouted.

This was a hilarious thing to say. I found myself looking at two immobile old men, trapped within the confines of a new cavernous room. The room had all the necessities for life: there was a little kitchen, a big deep freezer, a toilet, and a set of twin beds. One bed was made up, but the other had been used in the past day.

One of the old men was lying on his back inside some kind of inflatable bubble. He had withered arms and legs and a massive skull and big-pop eyes, and he must have been seventy years old. His whole body was shrunken like a crumpled newspaper. His eyes rolled in his head like billiard balls and moved away from Beth-Anne to fix on me. Five different tubes ran out of his body and led into a glowing array of hissing and beeping machines that must have been keeping him alive. Inside the sealed bag, he looked like a microwave burrito. There was a bullhorn connected to the plastic near his mouth, which explained why he was so loud and irritating.

The other man was younger, but not much. He was in a wheelchair, and he didn’t even look at me. He stared at Beth-Anne with drool on his chin, and he moved the joystick knob on his wheelchair back and forth, rolling forward and backward suggestively at her with a manic, disconnected leer fastened on his wet lips.

Next to the man in the bubble coffin was a stack of books, and balanced on the stack was an empty cup of yogurt and a dirty spoon.

“Nobody move,” I said again. I was so confused I dropped the duffel bag. Beth-Anne picked it up, smiled at me, and walked away through the hole in the books that I’d made.

That was a good idea. She could wait downstairs.

As Beth-Anne left, the man in the wheelchair tried to go after her. I grabbed one of the handles of his chair and he came up short in a half-circle. He hissed at me, and I could see scars on his forehead from where they must have gone in with the knife or the icepick. I could also see that he had a massive erection.

“WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT DO YOU WANT?” asked P.X. Glinty, the immobile man in the plastic bubble.

“I want your money,” I said. “And anything valuable. Or I smash your brother here with my hammer.”

“YOU WOULDN’T DARE!” said P.X. Glinty. “HOW DID YOU GET IN HERE? WHERE DID YOU COME FROM?”

“The doctor sent me,” I said. “You haven’t been paying your bills.”

“IF YOU TOUCH CASPER, I SWEAR NO GOOD WILL COME TO YOU. HE BELONGS TO ME. HE IS MY RESPONSIBILITY.”

“Where’s the money?” I asked. “I bet you have millions. This big place. Those expensive machines.”

“THERE’S NOTHING VALUABLE IN HERE. ALL THE MONEY IS IN BOOKS. YOU’D BETTER JUST GO.”

I raised up the hammer. Casper Glinty leaned forward in the wheelchair and peered at me. He smacked his lips. He crossed his arms.

“BOY, I DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU THINK YOU ARE DOING, BUT YOU ARE HEADED DOWN A TERRIBLE PATH, AND YOU ARE BOUND FOR A HARD LOT IF YOU DON’T AMEND YOUR WAYS. WHAT HAPPENED TO THE GIRL? HOW DID YOU GET IN HERE?”

“You sound just like my dreams,” I said.

And this was true. I have these dreams sometimes where I get a letter in the mail from my old man, and each letter is a list of everything I have done wrong, and everything he doesn’t like. Sometimes he is mad at me for moral reasons, but mostly it is style-complaints. In my dream, when I open the letters I hear his voice read the letters out loud to me, and I always throw them away. But then I always change to make him happy.

“Look,” I said. “I’ll level with you. You tell me where your money is, and I’ll leave you alone and get out of here. I don’t want to hurt any cripples anyway.”

“I SAID THERE’S NO MONEY,” said P.X. Glinty. “I BUY, SELL, AND TRADE RARE AND ANTIQUE BOOKS. AND CURRENTLY, I AM LEVERAGED OUT SO FAR THAT YOU COULDN’T FIND THE FULCRUM BY REACHING OUT WITH BOTH HANDS. AND THAT’S EVEN IF YOU WERE AN IMPRESSIVE CRIMINAL, WHICH YOU ARE NOT. ALL MY JOY IS IN READING, AND THAT’S ALL I EVER NEED OR WANT. WHERE IS YOUR JOY? DRUGS? FORNICATION?”

“I don’t need joy,” I said. “I have a hammer.”

Casper Glinty, the mentally enfeebled Glinty brother, was twisting around in his wheelchair like a ferret with a sock over his face. I held the handle of his chair with an iron grip, and he couldn’t do anything but slap at my hand and make whinnying, blubbering noises.

“YOU THINK YOU CAN TAKE ADVANTAGE OF US,” said P.X. Glinty. “YOU THINK THAT’S AN EASY THING TO DO.”

Suddenly, Casper Glinty lunged forward and grabbed the bookshelf behind me that I had mangled with my entrance. His crooked legs trailed behind him like fake puppet legs, but he pulled himself up with amazing strength that I never would have believed. He shimmied up the side and wedged himself into one of the high shelves like a cat, displacing books and swiping at them as they fell, trying to knock them on my head.

“Get back here,” I said. “Where do you think you are going, junior?”

I swung at him with the hammer, but I missed and knocked a thick chip of wood from the corner of the shelf instead. Casper swung himself higher, and then climbed all the way on top of the bookshelf. There he squatted, rocking back and forth on his elbows, glaring at me.

“WHAT WAS THE LAST BOOK YOU READ?” asked P.X. Glinty.

“What?” I said. Casper Glinty rocked back and forth faster and faster, and the bookshelf on which he was perched started to tremble every time he bounced. I took another swing at him with the hammer, leaping up on the balls of my feet, but he was too quick for me and dodged backwards.

“WAS IT SOMETHING ABOUT THIEVES OR FALSE MEN?” asked P.X. Glinty. “WHAT PIECE OF PROSE SENT YOU DOWN THE LIFE YOU LEAD? OR WAS IT ILLITERACY THAT MADE YOU WHAT YOU ARE? PERHAPS YOU DON’T READ AT ALL.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I don’t read.”

The bookshelf started to tip over, and stupidly, instead of moving out of the way, I tried to stop it. The bookshelf came crashing down and boards caught me right in the chest and knees. I felt my legs snap, and I hit the ground like a busted wedding cake. I hit, splattered, and stuck there, unmoving.

2.

When I opened my eyes, I wasn’t dead.

“Call an ambulance!” I shouted. “Your maniac brother broke my legs! I can’t move!”

The Glinty brothers both had the same laugh. They sounded like bleating sheep.

“YOU’VE BEEN OUT FOR HOURS,” said P.X. Glinty.

“Beth-Anne!” I shouted. “Beth-Anne, help me!”

“I’M SURE SHE IS LONG GONE BY NOW,” said P.X. Glinty. “I’M AFRAID YOU ARE STUCK HERE WITH US.”

“I’m not stuck here,” I said. “I’m getting out of here, with the money or without it.”

“THERE’S NO MONEY AND THERE NEVER WAS,” said P.X. Glinty. “BUT NOW YOU’VE GOT SOMETHING EVEN MORE VALUABLE: TIME TO THINK.”

I tried to pull myself out from under the wreckage of the bookcase, but when I flexed my back to roll over the pain was so strong that I screamed with mingled rage and agony like a junkie trying to fake it at the ER.

There we were: three broken men littered among scattered books in a library for no one. Not a single one of us could walk, and the only one who could move didn’t have the brains to get anywhere.

“I need a doctor,” I said, after I caught my breath. “I think I am bleeding internally.”

“A PHYSICIAN FOR THE SOUL IS WHAT YOU NEED,” said P.X. Glinty. “IT WAS SPIRITUALLY SATISFYING TO WATCH MY BROTHER DROP THAT BOOKCASE ON YOU.”

“Don’t you have an emergency button you can trigger with your chin or something? I didn’t want to hurt you fuckers. I just wanted a little payoff to take my girl to Europe.”

“I CAN’T MOVE ANYTHING BELOW MY MOUTH,” said P.X. Glinty. “ANYWAY, THE MAID WILL BE HERE IN TWO DAYS. CASPER WILL TAKE CARE OF US UNTIL THEN, AND THEN THE POLICE WILL TAKE CARE OF YOU.”

“I’ll die before then!” I shouted.

“I DOUBT IT,” said P.X. Glinty. “YOU CAN TALK. YOU ARE FINE. OF COURSE, NOW THAT I’VE GOT YOUR ATTENTION, MAYBE I SHOULD DO A BIT OF CHARITY AND GIVE YOU SOMETHING THAT YOU CAN KEEP WITH YOU IN PRISON AND THAT WILL GIVE YOU STRENGTH. CASPER, BRING ME A BOOK. A SPECIAL BOOK. BRING ME THE ERSATZ GUTENBERG.”

There was a rasping shuffle, and then I saw Casper crawling along the ground like a little kid pretending to be a snake. He smiled at me. His dick was still as hard in his pants as a javelin. He was wearing my “Fuck Me Felix” hat.

“The gut-bug?” asked Casper, smacking his lips.

“BANANA, BANANA, BANANA, BANANA, BANANA,” said P.X Glinty. “FIVE BANANAS.”

“Banana!” said Casper, scuttling away. I couldn't turn my head, but I could hear him get back in his wheelchair and roll away into the book stacks.

He returned after several minutes carrying a giant volume that looked like it was a million years old. He took it over to P.X. and held it open for him like an altar boy. He turned the first few pages with his nervous, palsied fingers and waited for his brother’s orders.

“OH HELL,” said P.X. happily. “THE BIT I WANT TO READ YOU IS IN ECCLESIASTES, BUT TRY TELLING CASPER THAT. I GUESS WE WILL HAVE TO BEGIN AT THE BEGINNING AND WORK OUR WAY THERE.”


3.

That’s how I got busted. The cops thought it was pretty fucking funny, let me tell you.

The pain in my legs and abdomen was sharp enough that it almost made me pass out, but every time I came close, Casper would slap me. I could wiggle my arms, but they were pinned at my sides. Halfway into Genesis, I started to scream for help again, but then Casper taped my mouth closed.

We paused so that Casper could masturbate, lying on his back on the single bed and singing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” We paused so that the Glinty brothers could eat yogurt. But otherwise, P.X. kept reading until the police came. There was nothing else to do. This was their lives, and for awhile, I was a part of it.

The doctors said later that keeping me awake was what saved my life.

I hated reading before. Did I tell you that?

But now I hate reading even more.

People in this place are addicted. Eight-foot tall gangsters from both coasts will let you fuck ‘em in the weight room with a five pound dumb-bell if you have a good book that takes their minds away from this place. But not me. I still don’t care. I still don’t want one.

I know what life is. I’d rather just stare at the ceiling in my bunk and dream with my eyes open.

2 comments:

Uncle Staple said...

the real gutenberg is SIX bananas.

Herbie said...

There's something silly about this story that is just enticing, endearing. There's not much there, there's not much to this story, but for what is there it works. The gimps turning the tables on him, light and fun.