A very bad man, part three
December 1, 2013 by Thomas Wictor
He simply would not listen, would not change the way he did things, and would not stop bringing in more and more junk that nobody on the planet wanted. We had no idea how this three-quarters-dead old man would leave another four hundred pounds of crap for us to sort, but he pulled off this miracle several times a week.
One day Tim muttered, “Oh my God” and motioned for me to come over and look at a stack of black-and-white photos. They showed Larry as a clown, performing rudimentary acrobatics for a roomful of grim, middle-aged men. The photos gave me a terrible chill because Larry looked just like John Wayne Gacy.
“Who are these men?” Tim whispered. “Why are they sitting there, watching Larry spinning on his ass? I’ll bet there wasn’t even music. He just went out there on put on this demented show in perfect silence.”
We learned that Larry had taken out a third mortgage on his house, he was eight months behind on the rent for the store, and his storage units nearby had been padlocked because he was a year in arrears. The manimal cronies spoke reverently of his hanger at the airport in a city commonly associated with gangsta rap, where he stored his real treasures. These books would pay all his bills and re-establish him as a leading dealer, though that too was touch and go.
At the end of the year, the hanger would be padlocked and Larry would lose it all, unless he came up with his back rent. Despite his circumstances Larry was sure that at any day, his fortunes would turn. He had a group of six investors in Arizona, he said, who were going to pump $500,000 into the store as soon as one of them returned. This person was “away and could not be contacted.”
Larry’s plans included opening his own museum, creating a private lending library, establishing a dealership in memorabilia, and founding his own publishing house. John the landlord—who would stop by every few days to complain bitterly to Tim and me about how much money was owed him—was an energetic seventy-one-year old ex-Army officer. He was also under Larry’s spell. After a couple of hours of griping, he would always reverse himself and say, “Well, maybe he’ll pull it off after all.”
John belonged to a religious sect that required him to do significant acts of charity, which he said was the reason he let Larry get so far behind in the rent. On one of his visits John told Larry that now the nonpayment of rent was impacting John’s other businesses. It was time for Larry to either fork over the money of get out.
“Um, FUCK OFF, JOHN!” Larry screamed.
John finally snapped.
“DON’T YOU TELL ME TO FUCK OFF!” he shouted. “I’VE CUT YOU SO MUCH SLACK, AND YOU SAY THAT TO ME?”
Larry broke into giggles. “Take it easy, John. Ill get you your money. Relax.”
When he left a few minutes later, John was again confident that Larry would come through for him.
The rainy season started. One morning Tim and I discovered a lake several inches deep inside the store. Streams of coffee-colored water poured from the ceiling. Larry goose stepped in and had no reaction. He literally said nothing. So Tim and I spread out wet books in a dry corner of the store, wrapped the front desk in plastic sheets, set out buckets to catch the water, and added mopping to our list of daily chores. Neither Larry nor the manimals were fazed in the least, though everything was wet for three weeks.
After the store ceiling stopped peeing coffee, Tim and I came to work and were greeted with the horrific sight of two metal shelves doubled over. They looked like a Dali painting of soft skyscrapers prostrating themselves to God. This inanimate piety had dumped about two hundred pounds of books on the floor. The homeless movers who’d assembled the shelves had used one bolt where three were required at he attachment points, and they also hadn’t used wrenches.
A quick inspection showed that every metal shelf in the store was a deadly booby trap, ready to collapse on anyone within range. When we informed Larry, he had no response, except to tell us a story about the time he threatened to beat up a man who was harassing a woman walking beside the road. Tim and I had to unload almost a hundred shelves and put up to eighty bolts into each one.
When Tim had been there three months, we admitted that the situation was entirely hopeless. The more we got the store into shape, the more Larry tried to sabotage us, insisting we were working too hard and urging us to take time off. As soon as we’d straighten up one area, he’d somehow manage to spirit in a brand-new pile of refuse, adding a Sisyphean dimension to our labors.
He began accusing us of misplacing his nonexistent orders. His bellow of “WHERE TH’ HELL DID IT GO?” caused us violent shudders of repressed fury. Whenever we tried to throw out an inconsequential scrap of paper or battered publication, he’d stop us, shouting, “I’ve been looking for that! I had a guy in here just yesterday asking me if I had it!”
Since Tim and I were there every day and never saw anybody, these customers either existed only in Larry’s mind or were invisible and communicated with him telepathically.
We’d long since decided that we’d finish organizing his store and then quit. It was obvious that Larry now realized that with the coming of competent assistants, he no longer had any excuses, and his fabulism would have to give way to hard-nosed realism. For our part we felt guilty about putting him into this position. On the other hand, all we’d done was taken him at his word that he wanted a functioning business.
Another sign that it was time to leave was that we’d begun seeing little black blobs out of the corners of our eyes. They were like cats that ducked out of sight when we look directly at them. Though at the time both Tim and I were atheists, these things seemed to be portents of catastrophe. They unnerved us because they appeared to be real. We’d both seen them for days before we mentioned them to each other.
On December 14, 1995, we forced Larry to take us to his hanger full of treasures. It would be padlocked on January 1, 1996, unless he paid the rent on it. We still didn’t understand; we thought we were saving an addled old man from himself. I hadn’t acquired my ability to let free determine all outcomes.
Larry very reluctantly guided us to his hanger. His cheerfully racist son-in-law Frank came in his own truck. Larry wore enormous, black, square sunglasses with arms as wide as the lenses. They were the final touch of warped incongruity. Of course he wore such disquieting, perverted sunglasses. He’d have to.
His van had no speedometer, no gas gauge, and an expired registration, which didn’t really matter because his driver’s license had been revoked the year before. We followed him as he drove at eighty-five miles per hour into the heart of one of Southern California’s toughest cities.
At the airport we learned in front of the locked gate that Larry had lost his key in the foot-high layer of rubbish on the floor of his van, so while he went in and begged admittance, Tim, Frank, and I observed the incredibly bizarre sight of aircraft taking off and landing in the midst of run-down houses. A man unlocked the gate, and Larry floored it. He sped away, doing seventy or eighty between the rows of parked airplanes.
Frank laughed from the cab of his truck. “A few years ago he knocked the wings off six planes doing that. I always wondered how he got out of paying for it.”
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