My ol’ pal Scottdammit! had an interesting exchange regarding an autographed copy of the novel “Sock” by Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller fame…
Order the novel on Amazon
A young man came into his bookstore – a very nervous young gentleman, mind – and wanted to sell the aforementioned tome, due to a ‘bad connotation’…
Mr. Dammit! (As his 3rd grade teacher called him) gave me the following assignment
“What the fuck do you suppose that meant? Bad Connotation?”
Here is my answer in the form of the first draft of a short exchange between a couple of Las Vegas detectives and an uncomfortable bookstore clerk. Keep in mind that, if not familiar with the Penn Jillette novel, this will make little to no sense. If you are familiar with the story of a man and his sock monkey… it will make no sense whatsoever.
“An examination of an odd transaction as posited by my good friend Scott.”
by A.R. Howerton
“Alright, tell us again. What did you say this guy looked like?”
“Well… umm… he was, like… 6’3”, maybe 6’4”… he had had this huge frizzy black shag of hair. Kinda looked like Slash, from “Guns n’ Roses”… Y’know… Slash? Guitar player?”
Scott Doohan sat fidgeting in front of the detectives. It had been a very long time since he had been braced by the cops, but old habits spring up fast, and Scott was nervous – manic – like an animal backed into its burrow.
“Sooo… he was tall and had frizzy black hair? What else?”
The big cop – his name was McGuire – stared a hole through Doohan. Scott could tell that this one thought he was lying. That he was looking for a reason to engage in some standard Police brutality. He held his pencil to his notepad as if he was about to jam it through a windpipe. McGuire seemed like the kind of guy who probably spent a lot of his personal time polishing guns and breaking things with his nightstick. Scott was sweating. His thoughts were scattering like a radio on search. The only thing that kept snapping into his brainpan was an old Bo Diddley song “I walk forty-seven miles of barb-wire, got a cobra snake for a necktie” played over and over as he scrambled to stay connected to his surroundings and fight through the sweat and the terror this big meaty bastard of a cop was staring into his heart.
“Hey McGuire, lay off this guy. Why don’t you go get some coffee next door, huh?”
McGuire’s partner, obviously the good cop in this game, was tiny by comparison. She wore jeans and cowboy boots and had a beat-up leather jacket over her white dress shirt. Auburn curls tumbled out from the back of her head where it cascaded down her neck and over her shoulders. She was in her thirties and had soft, delicate features, but scarred with a weathered grin and sharp eyes that gave the distinct impression that she had seen a hell of a lot more of the shit than you ever will. Her name was Lacy. She didn’t introduce herself as ‘detective’ or give a last name. Lacy’s voice had a gravel to it, the kind of voice you’d expect from a 60 year-old woman who favored whiskey and pall malls. Despite the apparent intensity of her personality, she spoke softly to Scott Doohan, coaxing where her partner shoved.
“Look Scott – it’s Scott, right? – Look, we’re just trying to figure out if this was the guy we’re looking for, OK? You’re not in any kind of trouble here. McGuire’s just kind of a hard-ass sometimes. He gets impatient. I know you’re nervous Scott, but I just want to know what happened. You OK? You need some water or something?”
Scott felt his muscles and his mind relax as he watched McGuire disappear, as the little bell at the top of the door jangled a sing-song farewell to the detective’s hulking shoulders and thick neck.
“Don’t worry about him. HEY! You still with me here, kid?” Lacy commanded.
Scott turned his attention back to the lady cop, heaving a sigh of relief but reminding himself that he was still talking to a cop. Old habits hang tough.
“Like I said before” Scott said, as he let his gaze wander off to the ceiling “The guy came in about 10 this morning. He was all skittish and nervous. Seemed a little crazy, if you ask me.”
Scott was having trouble staying focused. Lacy fixed her eyes on him in an intent stare, not threatening like McGuire’s, but interested, and definitely cataloguing every word, every nuance and every tic as Scott mumbled through his story. Scott couldn’t help but falling into to her stare and was more than a little surprised to hear the story start pouring out of him as if he was hearing it on a tape. It was almost as if she had hypnotized him with her hard eyes and rough voice.
“He was this big skinny guy, 6’3”, with a huge mess of black hair, like Sla…”
“Like Slash from Gn’R. I got that part, slick.”
Lacy kept his eyes locked as she studied the inflections in his voice. So far, she had every reason to think he was legit. Of course, there were plenty of guys before him who thought they were smart enough to throw the cops by calling in their own crime. There were plenty too, who just wanted to get caught. Scott became more animated, but no more relaxed as he continued.
“So he comes in, all hunched over in this long black coat, holding something really close to his chest. To be honest, I was a little worried that he had a gun or something. He comes up to the counter and – I couldn’t really see his face, cuz of all the hair and everything – and he lays this book down. Just kind of BAM! Slams it down on the counter like I know what he wants or something…”
“And that was this book? SOCK? By Mr. Jillette?”
She picked up the Ziploc bag that the regular cops who came first had put the book in. Scott cringed at the sight of it, like it was a dead animal or something dirty that he didn’t want near him. Lacy caught the shudder and jotted it down in her mental catalogue, another sign that Doohan was legit.
“Yeah. He slams it down on the counter and just kind of mumbles ‘How Much’ in this creepy kind of raspy voice, like he was trying to sound like… fuck what’s that old guy… from that Christmas Vacation movie? Y’know, really skinny old guy… “Where’s my stogey”… that guy.”
Lacy chuckled despite herself and let her guard drop as she smirked at the mental image of the old man in the movie, toupee askew, jacket on fire after he’s set the Christmas tree ablaze.
“Yeah, I know who you mean. So he had a raspy voice?”
“Not even that his voice was raspy, but like he was trying to sound that way, y’know? Like he was trying to disguise his voice. Anyways, he slams the book down and I notice there’s red stuff all over his sleeve and on the book. I say ‘Hey Man! There’s red shit all over this! I’m not buying a book all covered in ink or whatever!’ And he says, in that same raspy fake voice ‘It’s autographed. How Much?’. So now I figure he’s just some jagoff in from the strip trying to hock stuff for slots money, right? So I check the flyleaf and, yeah there’s a signature there, but I don’t know it’s legit, so I tell him I’ll give him $5 for it. He just stuck his hand out and shook it at me, with his hair hanging down in his face and his big black jacket pulled around him like he was cold. He looked like some beggar from Dickens, like Bill Sikes or something. I asked him why he was getting rid of it for $5 if it’s autographed and he says – and I remember this, because it was such a weird way to say it and still in that weird voice – “I have a bad connotation with this book”. So I figured he was a whack job, and gave him the fiver just to get rid of him. As soon as he had it in his hand he took off.”
“And that’s all that was said? Nothing else you can tell me about him?”
Lacy fixed him with her eyes again, just to be sure, although he was reading as completely sincere.
“You know, I couldn’t swear to it, but as he was running out the door, I could have sworn he had one of those fucking sock puppets, like on the cover of the book, hanging out of his jacket pocket. I just figured I was seeing things. I just happened to turn the TV on after he left. I guess I felt a little weirded out. Anyways, I was wiping the stuff off the book when it came on the news about that ‘Pen’ guy. He was a magician, right? Tall guy? Worked with a little guy who never talked. I think I saw them do the ‘catch a bullet in your mouth’ trick on Letterman once.”
Lacy was sure now. Doohan was on the level. He was just the innocent bookstore clerk. It still didn’t make sense why the killer would have stopped to sell a book, right after stabbing a celebrity in broad daylight in the middle of a crowded casino. Money? Didn’t seem likely if the guy came into this dusty little hovel. Guilt? There had to be easier ways to get caught. Lacy’s best guess, especially considering the description and the apparent behavior of this mystery man, was just that he was exactly what he seemed – completely bat-shit insane – What else could it be?
“You say he said he had a ‘bad connotation’ with the book? Any idea what that would mean, Scott?”
“I guess he was just a nutjob, right? I mean, he took five bucks for it, acting all weird and then ran out of here. Like I say, I didn’t think anything of it until I saw the news that the magician was murdered and realized he was the guy from the book. Then I realized it might be blood on the book and I freaked out. I called you guys right away and left the book right where it was. Called my boss, locked the door. You don’t think the guy will come back do you?”
Scott shuffled nervously on his feet. That was the cue. Every interview with a convenience store clerk who’d been robbed at gunpoint, every kid who’d been beaten and mugged in an alley, every woman who’d been accosted in a dark corner somewhere, they all ended with that one question. ‘Do you think he’ll come back?’ It was the one litmus test for guilt that had never failed in Lacy’s fifteen years on the job.
“Nah. Like you said, Scott. Probably just some kind of nutjob. We’ll have an officer stop keep an eye on the area for a couple of days, but it shouldn’t be anything to worry about.”
As she finished reassuring Doohan, McGuire came back through the front door with a grunt and a jingle-jangle of the little bell, wrestling his massive shoulders through the door with two hands full of coffee. He shoved his way through and knocked a bookshelf by the door, sending a handful of books to the floor with a thud.
“Well?” He grumbled at Lacy “Can we get the hell out of this chicken coop? Girl next door saw a tall guy with black hair stumble by around 10am. Let’s go”
Lacy reached out to shake Scott’s hand. After a moment of confusion at the gesture, he gently took her hand and nodded.
“Thanks Scott. Call us if you think of anything else, OK? I left my card with your copy of the officers report. You stay out of trouble now.”
Lacy gave Scott a wink as she turned to her bear of a partner, who was knocking more books to the floor as he shoved his way back out the door.
“Fuckin’ place. Move these goddamn books! This is a goddamn hazard! I oughta have the Fire Marshall down here!”
Lacy gave Scott a shrug and a sly grin as she shoved McGuire out the door.
“Move your big ass, McGuire. Sorry about the books, kid. Have a nice day, huh.”
Scott came around the counter and towards the front door. He relocked the door and began to pick up the books that were scattered in heaps around the shelves.
“Moron.” He exclaimed to the empty room.
As he finished setting the books back, first making sure they were all standing the proper way, then grouped by size, Scott leaned towards the dusty shopfront window and watched as the detectives drove away, followed by the squad car that had accompanied them.
Scott turned and surveyed the tiny store, jammed full with books on every wall and standing shelves making up a labyrinth of wood and paper. He shuffled back behind the counter and through to the tiny stock room that also held the microwave, coffee maker and a four-foot closet with a toilet and a wall sink. He stood in the bathroom, staring into the mirror.
A muffled voice replied in an unpleasant voice that sounded something like squealing brakes or nails on a blackboard.
“Good. Now that you’ve set the record straight with that bad wamajama monkey-fucker Magician, we can go back to the way things were. We can’t let some giant fucktard with a magic wand tell people what to believe and what not to believe! What kind of world would that be?”
Scott pulled the mirror to the side and reached into the hole hidden in the wall. He came out with a small ragdoll – a sock monkey with a big red sock mouth and button eyes of the darkest green imaginable. They looked black, but for a sheen of forest green around the edges that played in the bare bulb light and sparkled with a ferocity that you would never expect from a children’s toy. It had a tangle of rough black ‘hair’ and glasses drawn around its eyes in felt pen.
“God! Did I really have to kill him? Couldn’t we have just scared him or something? There was so much blood… I mean, Jesus! It was just a book, man.”
Scott held the sock monkey at arms length. Keeping it clenched in his fist as if he were afraid of it striking for his throat at any second. The voice came back angry and sharp as broken glass.
“Fuck Jesus. And Fuck God. And Fuck Penn & Teller. All a figment of your imagination. Besides, that’s what you get for talking shit about a sock puppet in my town! Now let’s get some lunch… You want Chinese?”