Basic storyline: A short-trip down short-con memory lane. This originally appeared in The Mississippi Review literary magazine and was listed in The Best Short Stories of 2004.
Pete knew how to do this trick where it looks like you catch a bullet in your teeth. It required two people, obviously–one to shoot and one to catch. He used to do it with his friend Hoover’s dad, who had a farm six miles away from his own. Hoover’s Dad had been a magician for a while in the seventies. A magician and a gun nut, which Pete – even from the day he met him – always thought was a wretched combination. Later he thought differently. He felt for magicians. It was a calling as much as anything was, he thought. And the fact that you could stick to it, even when it was really no better than being a birthday clown, meant something. Anyway the point is that Pete always thought of the gun trick before he practiced his trade, which was graft. You could get cold feet, if you had half a conscience. But when you remember you’ve pointed a gun at a man’s head and pulled the trigger, it’s remarkable how unimportant everything else suddenly seems.
Pete was talking to one Larry Fischer. Larry Fischer, Esq. They were negotiating terms. Larry was a lank, charming, fruitcake lawyer, tall for the trade. There were few tall lawyers, Pete had discovered. Larry wasn’t a colleague or client, though. He was a sucker.
“I can only afford half that,” Larry pleaded, sotto voce.
He still had a tremor of shame in his voice, but mostly he glowed with the relief of the guilty.
“Make the check out for as much as you can afford. I’ll go back, look up a few things, and if there’s a problem with what you’re giving me, I’ll get in touch with you.”
Pete had sidled up to Larry as he got off the shuttle from La Guardia. They walked together for a moment while Pete showed Larry the pictures he’d taken. Larry’d tripped and nearly wiped out, stumbling a few feet with his briefcase in one hand, overnight bag in the other, holding them out like he was riding a motorcycle. Pete had grabbed a handful of Larry’s suit coat, righted him, then steered him over to a WH Smith. They now stood very close together behind an armpit-high rack of mugs and refrigerator magnets.
“I want your watch, as well,” Pete said.
“She gave me the watch.”
They exchanged a look. Pete didn’t really have a range of expressions. Usually this meant that people just forgot about him. Unless of course he was looking right at you and wanting money. Pete knew that people
would read all kinds of things into his face then.
An instant, awkward smile fell across Larry’s face. The muscles in his neck twitched like a bird.
“I guess I … I think …” Larry stammered.
Pete pulled a hardcover book from a shelf and handed it to Larry: “You can write the check on this. Does that sound good?”
“I need a pen. I mean, I’ve got a pen. It’s …”
Larry started to open his briefcase when his hands went wild. Pete was reminded of the leaves of an aspen pine. Then the briefcase threw up all over the place, and Larry scrambled to the floor.
Pete sighed and pulled him back up by the arm.
“C’mon, Larry. It’s Larry? C’mon, pull yourself together, huh?”
Download my entire short story, Hoover’s Dad, here.