Thomas Wictor

A very bad man, part five

A very bad man, part five

After we were back within our own walls, I waited an hour and then called Larry’s home number. He answered with his mouth full and told me that he was perfectly okay. I could hear his television blasting in the background

“I’m really sorry, but I can’t come back,” I said.

“Yeah, sure, I understand. Good-bye,” he said and hung up.

He surprised me by calling twice in the next month, saying, “Hope you’re over your nervousness!” and “I sure wish you’d reconsider!”

I informed him that I wasn’t at all over my nervousness, and that if I did reconsider, I’d let him know.

Eight months later, almost to the day, I found myself in Larry’s neck of the woods for jury duty. Since his store was only a couple of miles from the courthouse, I gave in to temptation on my third day and drove over during the lunch break to see if he was still there. The closer I got to the place, the sicker, more guilty, more angry, and more depressed I felt. I rounded the corner and thought for a second that I’d finally lost my mind.

The store itself hadn’t changed a jot or tittle, except that there was a full-sized Lockheed Vega perched on top of it. Bales of hay were strewn all over the parking lot. Booths with signs reading, “Lemonade” and “Fireworks” lined the sidewalks. Several large trucks were parked next to the store, each spilling several yards of thick cable. There were pole-mounted stadium lights everywhere, and on the wall next to the front door was a sign:

No Food Or Drinks On The Set (In The Store).

I parked across the street and went over to peer through the front window. Everything was exactly the same, except more disorderly. With a sudden chill I heard the blaring monotone going on and on, deep inside the store, rising and falling in its familiar cadence, a slowed-down recording of a siren.

There was a bearded, pony-tailed man repainting the side of the store with a large roller, so I asked what was going on, though I already knew. He paused and told me the store had been used as a location for a scene in an upcoming feature film, the first theatrical release of the fledgling production company owned by a well-known young actress. I demanded the details, and he laughed and asked me if I knew the old man, Larry.

“Boy, he’s amazing,” he chuckled. “He’s really one of a kind. He held out for the highest possible rate for renting his store.”

The street was the ideal site for the early-twenties setting of the film. They producers had agreed to repaint, repair, and re-roof the store, allowing themselves to be pushed much further than they thought they’d ever go. But after all, Larry was a great old guy, he’d had an incredible life, and his store was absolutely perfect for the scene they had in mind.

I thanked the man and got back in my car. In the eight months since I’d left Larry, I’d had several post-traumatic flashbacks and run blindly into the street or dived into bushes when I saw bouncy young men who walked a certain way. I heard a kid say, “Don’t fuck with me, man!” to his friend, and I ran out of the store. My car had been destroyed in an accident; I’d survived a romantic entanglement with the sickest, cruelest person who ever lived; and now I was a juror on the most inane, waste-of-time trial in the history of jurisprudence.

The news of Larry’s windfall would certainly cheer up Tim, who was currently working in the eighteen-inch-high crawlspace under my great-aunt’s house, digging trenches for a claustrophobic plumber. I was certain that Larry had caged himself a role in the film. At this time next year, Hollywood would be toasting its latest—if slightly mature—new star.

About a month later, John the landlord called and told us that he’d taken Larry to court and gotten him evicted. The judge had given John the entire contents of the store. John asked us if we wanted to come run the business. Tim and I thought about it but declined. We could never return to that parking lot at night. Almost being murdered had destroyed something in us. As it turned out, part of us did die.

John then offered to sell us the contents of the store for $5000. Though tempted, Tim and I just felt that the books were tainted.

“I know what you mean,” John said. “In court Larry lied the whole time, and his wife accused me of never giving him a chance. I let him get a full year behind in the rent because I felt sorry for him, but now I realize he used me. He’s the most destructive person I’ve ever come across.”

After that conversation Tim and I suddenly figured out what’d happened: Larry had hired someone to murder us and steal his worthless hanger stash so he could make an insurance claim. That’s why he kept disappearing while we loaded his trash into the truck. He didn’t have the “drizzlin’ shits”; he was calling his hireling.

Luckily, the would-be killer used an Intratec TEC-9 assault pistol, which looks fabulous but is known as the “Jam-o-matic” because it needs to be scrupulously cleaned after every use. The gun didn’t work, and Tim and I managed to get inside the store, so the gunman and Larry had a whispered consultation outside. It’s the only possible reason Larry refused to come in when we screamed at him. His entire reaction to the attempted robbery was abnormal.

I can picture him telling the killer when he hired him, “It’s a shame that these boys have to die. I feel terrible about it! Poor fellas! If there was any other way, I’d take it. But I don’t got a choice!”

And I know the identity of the gunman. It was Jim, the fake Special Forces guy who spoke with the voice of a six-year-old girl and wanted to shoot someone “where his nuts is at.” The gunman squealed like a piglet, and he said, “Don’t fuck with me, man,” a hackneyed, crappy, imbecilic movie-line if I’ve ever heard one. How were two guys unloading books fucking with him?

No, Jim was playacting as an ass-kicker, a role he always wanted, but he chose a theatrical weapon he was too stupid to know about. Tim thinks he was high on meth or crack or some other pharmaceutical courage.

“Whatta we do, man?” I’m sure he asked Larry.

“I…I don’t know! Just shut up a second. I gotta think, goddammit! Why didn’t you just shoot them?”

Incompetence, idiocy, and fabulism saved our lives.

Epilogue

As I sat in Mom’s house in early 1998, talking with her, I glanced at the TV, which she’d muted when I came over. She’d been watching a show about California’s ridiculous prisons, which release violent criminals after they serve only a fraction of their sentences. I always asked if she’d rather watch TV, but she said she preferred conversation. Suddenly, there was Larry on the screen.

“OH MY GOD!” I shouted. “TURN IT UP!”

“There ain’t no rhyme nor reason to it,” Larry said. Then he was gone.

It turned out that he’d hired a parolee who held Larry and his wife hostage in their own house, drained their bank accounts, and physically assaulted them multiple times. Larry’s predation had finally boomeranged. In ten days he’d suffered a concentrated form of what he’d inflicted on others over a lifetime. All his own sins and crimes had been visited on him. He had a black eye during the filming of the report.

It made me laugh. I’m a very unforgiving person, and by that time I hated him. Tim had to hear about this. I went over to his house and met him coming out his back gate.

“You’re not going to believe who I just saw on TV,” he said shakily.

“I saw him too,” I said.

“Are we ever going to be free of people like that?” he asked.

Yes. Absolutely. We’re almost there.

When I wrote this piece, I looked up the movie filmed at Larry’s store. It wasn’t released, not even on video or DVD. Then I did something I thought I’d never do: I looked up Larry.

He lived to the age of eighty-six, fourteen more years beyond the night he tried to have Tim and me murdered. Given his unmanaged diabetes, emphysema, hypertension, and the fact that he lost everything, those fourteen years must’ve been absolute hell.

I’m sorry, Larry. You brought all of it down on your own head. Rest in peace, you amoral bastard.

A very bad man, part one
A very bad man, part two
A very bad man, part three
A very bad man, part four


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